By Liz McNeil
February 16, 2019
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Lee Radziwill, the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and mother-in-law of Real Housewives of New York alum Carole Radziwill, died on Friday in New York City, according to WWD and TMZ. She was 85.

Radziwill, the daughter of Janet Norton Lee and John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier, grew up in New York City and East Hampton and attended Miss Porter’s School, along with her sister, Jackie. She developed a passion for art, writers and fashion that continued throughout her life and made her a style icon for decades.

The sisters were as close as they were competitive. Lee was considered “the pretty one,” and her sister “the smart one.”

“The competition went on throughout their lives: ‘Who’s going to be more popular? Who will marry first?'” said Jackie, Janet and Lee author J. Randy Taraborrelli in January 2018. “But it all came to a crashing halt when Jackie became First Lady. Lee [was] saying, ‘How can I compete with that?'”

Lee married first, to Michael Canfield, while Jackie worked as a young photographer in Washington, D.C. But it was Jackie’s marriage to John F. Kennedy in 1953 that catapulted her into “another life.”

As Lee wrote in her memoir Happy Times: “With the wedding, Jackie’s destiny led to another life. As the wife of the President of the United States, she was extremely busy. She had to travel a lot, and liked to have me with her as we were very close. Apart from great mutual affection, I think our strongest bond was a shared sense of humor, which was endlessly enjoyable.”

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“She had so defined herself as being in competition with Jackie that when finally there was no competition she didn’t even know who she was,” added Taraborrelli. “That marked a new era for her. She realized she needed to do something to distinguish herself from the First Lady and that’s why she began to experiment with different careers (in the theater and interior decorating) but she was never able to establish herself with an identity that could compete with Jackie.”

Lee was a frequent visitor to the White House during JFK’s presidency and she came to her sister’s side after JFK’s assassination in 1963, reportedly leaving a note on Jackie’s pillow after the funeral that read, “Good night my darling Jacks — the bravest and noblest of all. L.”

By then, she had divorced Canfield and had married the Polish aristocrat Prince Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill, with whom she had two children, Anna Christina and Anthony Radziwill.

Tragically, Anthony — who was married to RHONY‘s Carole, 55 —  died from cancer in 1999 just a few weeks after his cousin, John F. Kennedy Jr. The two had been as close as brothers.

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Lee lived a storied life, befriending some of the greatest and most stylish artists of her time. She counted ballet star Rudolf Nureyev, author Truman Capote, conductor Leonard Bernstein and Andy Warhol among her closest friends, and she was continually on the world’s best-dressed lists for her streamlined jet-set style.

She later married Hollywood director Herbert Ross, whom she divorced in 2001, and was a public relations executive for Italian designer Giorgio Armani.

“There were so many things I couldn’t do when my brother-in-law was president,” Lee told Vanity Fair in 2016, reflecting on his time in the White House. “Finally, I’m free.”

When Lee came to Jackie’s bedside the day before she died to say goodbye in May 1994, she told her: “I love you so much. I always have, Jacks. I hope you know it.”

But Jackie’s final mention of Lee in her will spoke volumes about their lifelong tension.

After granting Lee’s children, Anthony and Tina, each a half a million dollars, Jackie wrote that she made no provisions for her younger sister, “For whom I have great affection because I have already done so during my lifetime.”

In her later years, Lee gave a few interviews about her legendary life. In 2013, she told the New York Times: “Regrets? I think everyone has regrets, and people who say they haven’t are either liars… or narcissists.”

“There have been many things in my life to have regrets about, in the sense I wish I could have changed them, or somehow made them not happen. What I don’t have is envy. I’m perfectly content at this time of my life. I’ve done so many fascinating things and the greatest joy is that I continue to do interesting things and meet fascinating people.”

Later in the same interview, she added, “When I was young, I used to think that everyone should die at 70… but my closest friends, like Rudolf [Nureyev] and Andy [Warhol] and, to an extent, [Truman] Capote, let alone most of my close family… didn’t even reach that age. There is something to be said for being older, and memories.”