Christina Onassis was the daughter of Greek shipping empire giant Aristotle Onassis and his wife, Athina. Though a poor refugee during his own childhood, the elder Onassis had earned his way in the business world by the time Christina was born, and the family was considered one of the wealthiest in the world. The Onassis’s had homes in Paris, Greece, and New York City, and were well known for their spirit of charity, art, power, and influence.
Christina was born on December 11, 1950, in New York City and her early childhood was marked by her parent’s bitter divorce in the mid-1960s, extensive media coverage, and years of early formal education, which would take her to New York and Switzerland, and far away from her busy family.
In 1968, after a highly publicized courtship, Christina’s father married Jacqueline Kennedy, former President John F. Kennedy’s widow. The media quickly picked up the story and would closely follow the relationships within the Onassis family for years, paying close attention to Christina’s disapproval of Jackie. Determined to carve her own path and avoid the spotlight, Christina moved to London and enrolled in Queens College to study fashion. She would drop out several months later, at the age of 19, ending her formal education.
When her mother, Athina, found a third husband in Stavros Niarchos, the publicity surrounding Christina and her family only increased. Niarchos was not only the widower of Athina’s sister but also the elder Onassis’s bitter shipping rival. As paper after paper ran headlines about the Onassis’s, Christina created news of her own by marrying a realtor 27-years her senior. Onassis was 20 years old at the time and the marriage would last only 9-months.
Eager for her own identity and the approval of the media, Christina began working at her father’s headquarters in Monaco. She began as a secretary, working her way up the corporate ladder. Proving herself an intelligent, competent businesswoman, Christina managed more than one-billion dollars each day and was considered by many a “natural” in the business world, inheriting her father’s good judgment and social skills.
In the early 1970s, illness and death would plague the Onassis family. In 1973, Christina’s brother, Alexander was killed while flying a private plane. Her mother, Athina, would pass away the following year of Pulmonary Edema, and her beloved father, Aristotle, died in March of 1975.
Despite her success in running the family business, Christina’s personal life constantly overshadowed her accomplishments, and her face was frequently splashed across the front pages of gossip and entertainment papers. Christina was said to be using a variety of addictive drugs on a regular basis, including amphetamines and barbiturates. She would marry and divorce four men in her lifetime, never keeping a husband for more than two years.
“Sometimes when you have everything,
you can’t really tell what matters.”
In 1985, Christina and her fourth husband, Thierry Roussel, had a daughter, Athina, named after her mother. Divorced and splitting time between Saint Moritz and Paris, Christina took great pride in caring for her daughter, determined to create a stable atmosphere for her child, which she would later claim was missing from her own life. During the early 1980s, she also sat on the Alexander Onassis Foundation board, serving as President to the charitable group formed in her brother’s memory.
On November 19, 1988, Christina Onassis was found dead in a friend’s home in Argentina. Her death was attributed to a heart attack, brought on by years of drug abuse.