John H. Davis, a best-selling author and member of the Bouvier family, died on Sunday in New York City at the age of 82 after a long illness and Alzheimer’s disease.
Mr. Davis was the son of Maude R. Bouvier and John E. Davis and one of 10 grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. John Vernou Bouvier Jr., residents of East Hampton from the 1920s to the 1940s when the family lived in Lasata, a large house on Further Lane with gardens, a tennis court, and stables in back. Among the grandchildren who spent summers there in addition to Mr. Davis were Jacqueline Bouvier and Edith Beale, known from the film “Grey Gardens” as Little Edie. His grandfather John H. Davis was a member of the New York Stock Exchange and founder of the private banking firm John H. Davis and Co., one of the oldest brokerage houses on Wall Street, which became Billings, Olcott, and Winsmore in 1920.
After graduating from Princeton University, Mr. Davis was commissioned to the rank of ensign in the United States Naval Reserve. He served on a ship with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. He eventually became navigation officer of his ship and did two six-month tours of duty. He navigated the ship into the Bay of Naples, the port of Athens, and Istanbul among many other ports.
While on duty, Mr. Davis applied for and received a Fulbright scholarship for study in Italy, where, after completing his service, he studied at the Italian Institute for Historical Studies in Naples. He became fluent in Italian and remained in Italy for 13 years, as founding director of the American Studies Center in Naples, then as director of Tufts University’s Intercollegiate Center of Italian Studies.
As cousin to the first lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, he attended John F. Kennedy’s inauguration as president and a reception for members of the Bouvier and Kennedy families in the White House. He also attended Kennedy’s funeral after he was assassinated in 1963.
After the funeral, he decided to write a history of the Bouvier family and made several trips to Provence in the South of France to track down his remote ancestors and their living descendants. The result was his first book, “The Bouviers: Portrait of an American Family,” published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 1969. The book was a major selection of the Literary Guild, sold 166,000 hardcover copies, and was serialized worldwide.
Other books followed, including an illustrated history of Venice, a history of the Guggenheim family based on his friendship with Peggy Guggenheim, and “The Kennedys: Dynasty and Disaster” in 1984, which became a New York Times best seller. Following that publication he wrote “Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy,” for which he received a two-year research grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. Richardson Preyer, a former chairman of the House Sub-committee on the Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, stated in a letter to Mr. Davis, “I believe you have come closer than anyone else to a solution of the ‘Crime of the Century.’ ”
He then wrote “Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family,” “The Kennedy Contract: The Mafia Plot to Assassinate the President,” and “Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir” in 1995. His book tours led to London, Buenos Aires, Zurich, Sao Paolo, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
He spent his last years at home under the care of his friend Sohodra Nathu, who worked on many of his books. He is survived by his sister, Maude S. Davis, in New York City and his first cousins, Princess Lee Radziwill Ross in California and Neville Davis in Connecticut.
A funeral service will be held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Saturday, followed by a military burial at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.