Seventeen years after JFK Jr.'s death, his closest friends reveal never-before-told stories about his life and final weeks. Subscribe now for an inside look at the JFK Jr. you never knew, only in PEOPLE!
While close friends say John F. Kennedy Jr. was not one to directly address his father's infidelity, one confidante believes it's one of the reasons the young Kennedy focused on becoming a consistent and loyal partner.
In I Am JFK Jr., a new SPIKE TV documentary to air Aug. 1 and featured in this week's PEOPLE, close friend John Perry Barlow, a Wyoming rancher and Grateful Dead lyricist, recounts a conversation they had when John was at Brown University.
"He called me once and said, 'It seems like it would be a cakewalk for me because everyone expects me to a great man. But it does seem to me, as I read these biographies of great men through history, they were not particularly great at home. Even my father was no model – and I think it would be a much more interesting challenge to see if I could make myself into a good man.' " Barlow recalls.
As for the specifics of what John was referring to, Barlow says it's open to interpretation: "I think he was kind of talking about infidelity, about how his father had been kind of a ladies' man, which despite widespread belief, John never really was."
While JFK Jr. was considered perhaps the world's most eligible bachelor, he was also known for being a committed boyfriend to his various girlfriends over the years.
"He was kind of a monogamous guy," says Barlow. Still, he adds with a laugh, "sometimes the turnover was a little high."
But John's faithfulness was more than just a reaction to his father, says Barlow: "I also think he had a natural instinct for not hurting people's hearts."
"At one point, I said 'Do you remember that conversation we had when you were in college about you becoming a good man?' " Barlow recounts. "He said 'Of course I do. I think about that conversation frequently,' " Barlow recalls him saying.
Barlow says he then told him, "you've become that person I aspired that you would be. You've been graceful and kind and good."
After a long pause, John responded: "I am very proud you are proud of me."
It's only one of the surprising revelations about John that make up I Am JFK Jr., which also opens in select theaters this week.
Says the film's director, Derik Murray, "With John, we didn't know what to expect, but what was consistent was that he was a man who cared about people, a man that had ambitions of his own, as opposed to just riding the jet stream of his family.
"This notion that he was poised and set up for greatness, he thought about it but he would rather have been a good man," Murray adds. "That's not something that's echoed today in what we read about our current pop culture icons – and it made him unique."