• Aristotle Socrates Onassis created a fortune from a small Turkish tobacco business in the late 1920s.
• Aristotle's personal life was scandalous, having affairs with Maria Callas and Jacqueline Kennedy.
• Alexander Onassis, Aristotle's son, died in a plane crash in 197•
• Christina Onassis, Aristotle's daughter, died in 1988 of a heart attack.
• Athina Onassis, Christina's daughter, inherited $800 million on her 18th birthday and fought her father for control of her assets.
Luxury, riches and fame are considered blessings for most people, but not even the biggest fortune in the world could compensate for repeatedly going through the tragedy and the misfortunes that the Onassis family has gone through. One of the richest families in the world and with an entire shipping empire to prove it, the success achieved by the Onassis at the business was counteracted by their tumultuous and highly enduring personal issues.
So what is really behind the downfall of the Onassis? Is the curse of the family real and what happened for them to gain that fame? Where are the Onassis family members these days and did they lose their fortunes? How did the past members of the family die?
Stay here to know all about the rise and downfall of the Onassis’ and they’re up to nowadays!
How Did They Become Rich?
The Onassis family’s riches came over a long time, ever since the family settled in the city once known as Smyrna, in Greece. However, the later occupation of said territory by Turks in the 1920s resulted in the loss of the assets owned by the Onassis, and the relocation of the surviving family members to Greece.
Once a refugee with barely $250 in his pocket, Aristotle Socrates Onassis moved to Argentina in 1923, where he studied business while working as an operator in a local phone company. Once his studies ended, he briefly worked in the country’s customs services, then started a small Turkish tobacco business, reportedly earning around $100,000 during the first year. By the late 1920s, Aristotle had founded a shipping company on top of managing a major international trade agreement between Argentina and Greece.
In the early 1930s, Aristotle took advantage of the reduced prices product of the Great Depression and bought his ships, eventually expanding his operations nationwide. He moved to the US not long after and diversified into the oil and airways industries. By the time he died in 1975, he’d accumulated a fortune of over $500 million, over $2 billion as of 2023. However, Aristotle’s riches are only partially what made the Onassis’ so famous, as continued tragedies and scandals would mark this family for the next decades.
Aristotle’s Life Scandals
Throughout his life, Aristotle Onassis made headlines for his bold and unorthodox business moves, but also his scandalous personal life. It all started when in 1946 he married Athina Mary Livanos, Greek socialité and heiress of the Livanos business empire, considered a rival of the Onassis one.
Although the high-profile marriage resulted in the birth of Aristotle’s two children Christina and Alexander, it didn’t last long. According to reports, Aristotle’s flings with several women eventually led to the couple’s divorce in 1950.
However, the most publicized of Aristotle’s affairs was with famous opera singer Maria Callas, of Greek descent as well. The affair reportedly started in 1959, as the pair embarked on a cruise of the Greek and Turkish coasts, at a time when both of them were still married to their respective partners. Although Aristotle eventually divorced Athina Livanos, he and Maria never married, but continued their relationship for many years, ending when he married Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of American President JF Kennedy in the late 1960s.
On October 20, 1968 "Jacqueline Kennedy is married to Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate on the private island of Skorpios" #50yearsofJAShttps://bit.ly/2N5PvIx
Posted by Just A Start on Friday, October 19, 2018
While it’s widely reported that Aristotle and Maria’s relationship might not have been as idyllic as thought, both of them allegedly comforted each other amid her career’s downfall, and his son and Athina’s death in the early ‘70s. Maria died in 1977, only two years after his death.
Death Of Alexander Onassis
One of the biggest tragedies ever suffered by the Onassis family was the death of Alexander, the only son of Aristotle and Athina Livanos. Born in New York City in 1948, Alexander had an informal education, and began working for his father at the early age of 17, a job which reportedly he wasn’t too happy about.
Alexander’s lack of commitment to following in his father’s footsteps in business was an issue in their relationship, which was worsened by Aristotle’s disapproval of Alexander’s romantic partners, including models Odile Rodin and Fiona Thyssen. Alexander and his sister Christina also openly disapproved of their father’s marriage to Jacqueline, though they reportedly went along well with their stepmother’s children.
In the late 1960s, Alexander developed a huge interest in flying, a hobby his father approved as he was eventually named head of Olympic Aviation, part of Olympic Aviation. While Alexander couldn’t be licensed for air transport due to his poor eyesight, he was a commercially licensed pilot. Unfortunately, his involvement with the aircraft industry led to his death at 24 years old, when he was severely injured in the crash of a plane he was supervising in 1973.
Heartbroken by the loss, his father Aristotle reportedly wanted to embalm his son’s body, but it was eventually embalmed. One year later, Alexander’s mom Athina died of a drug overdose, followed by Aristotle’s death in 1975.
Death of Aristotle Onassis
Previous to Aristotle Onassis’ death, he was surrounded by lots of controversies and scandals, most of them related to the death of his son Alexander in 1973. According to the biography “The Deadly Sins of Aristotle Onassis” by Stuart Speiser, the fact that Alexander was the only one to not survive the plane crash which resulted in his death was tremendously shocking to Aristotle.
Looking for answers, Aristotle blamed the plane’s auditioning pilot Don McCusker for supposedly not being experienced enough to pilot a Piaggio 136, the aircraft in which the accident occurred. Some other accusations by Aristotle included a plot against him planned by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The Greek forces in charge of investigating the case eventually issued a final report on the investigation, concluding that the crash wasn’t McCusker’s fault: ‘(it) was not the result of poor technique or mistake of the pilot. The main cause of the accident was the mistakes of the maintenance personnel of Olympic Airways’, as recorded by the journal Kathimerini, which also pointed out that it was Aristotle himself who had purchased the airplane in question.
Given the results of the report, Aristotle fell into a depression which also affected his physical health. He was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, and died from complications of it in March 1975.
Upon the death of her father Aristotle, Christina was the only surviving member of the Onassis family. Her father left 45% of his fortune to found the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation, while $500 million were destined for Christina, who became chief of the family’s business.
Money was the least of Christina’s problems, as her personal life was constantly troubled. In 1971, Christina married Joseph Bolker, a Californian businessman 27 years older than her and divorced father of two who was also a philanthropist. The marriage lasted less than 10 months and was strongly disapproved of by Aristotle.
Following the deaths of Christina’s brother and mother in the first half of the 1970s, she was reportedly briefed on the insides of the Onassis business empire by her father. She was expected to marry Peter Goulandris, to merge his and her family’s shipping empires, but she refused, and instead married Greek businessman Alexander Andreadis, but whom she divorced 14 months later.
Her third marriage was to Sergei Kauzov, whom she divorced in 1979 after only a year of marriage. She then married a French man named Thierry Roussel, with whom she welcomed their daughter Athina.
Her turbulent romantic endeavors weren’t the only scandalous aspect of Christina’s life though, as she famously renounced her American citizenship to reduce taxes, among several other questionable but legal business moves, along with allegedly suffering from an addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Christina Onassis’ longest relationship was with Thierry Roussel, but the pair’s marriage wasn’t successful at all. Shortly after the birth of their only daughter Athina Hélène in 1985, Christina discovered that Russell had cheated on her with model Marianne Landhage, who had also given birth to his son Erik.
Despite the infidelity, Christina and Thierry didn’t separate right away. It wasn’t until Christina discovered that Thierry and Landhage had welcomed a second child that the marriage came to a definite end in 1987. Nonetheless, it didn’t take long for tragedy to hit the family once again.
Christina was found unconscious by her friend Marina Dodero and maid Eleni on the morning of 19 November 1988, in a mansion in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Reports pointed out that she might have fallen ill while preparing to go swimming, ultimately falling unconscious in her room’s bathtub.
Christina was declared dead at 37 years old, but while it was suspected that the cause of death was suicide, it was later determined that pulmonary edema had caused her a sudden heart attack. Reports also point out that Christina had long suffered from eating disorders, which could have contributed to her death. Her remains were flown to Greece, where she was buried on the family’s private island of Skorpios.
#OTD in 1988, Christina Onassis, heir to the billion-dollar fortune of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, dies of heart failure at a country club swimming pool about 25 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. She was 37. pic.twitter.com/uXAehjbkpI
— Mace (@RoyaleVision) November 19, 2020
Athina’s Young Life Problems
Despite being the last Onassis, and so sole living heir of her grandfather Aristotle, things weren’t easy for Christina’s only daughter Athina. At the time of her mother’s death in 1988, Athina was only three years old, and was left to the care of her father Thierry Roussel, who was given an allowance to raise his daughter but not access to the Onassis’ fortune, which was managed for the time being by the Onassis’ estate board. Athina was raised by Thierry and his wife Marianne Landhage.
As stated in Christina’s will, Athina was to be raised surrounded by Greek culture, learning the language and under the faith of the Greek Orthodox Church. These stipulations were rejected by Thierry, who was not only unhappy about the financial limitations imposed on Athina’s future fortune, but didn’t encourage her to immerse herself in Greek culture either.
According to The Scotsman, Athina’s fortune was affected by Thierry’s decisions as well, as he had apparently withdrawn large amounts of money and sold part of her shares in the family’s business.
The dispute over Athina’s fortune reached its lowest point in 1998 when Athina declared she didn’t want anything to do with her Greek heritage and family: ‘I want to forget the name Onassis, it’s the cause of all the problems’, she told the magazine Oggi, though nowadays those statements are considered to have been influenced by her father.
Her Fight For Her Inheritance
While Athina’s bond with her maternal family and the Greek culture seemed to be irreparably severed by the late 1990s, that wasn’t the end of issues for Athina. During her father’s dispute to expand his control over the Onassis’ inheritance during her teens, Athina renounced her family’s heritage in a court for minors in Switzerland, claiming her supposed aversion to ‘everything Greek’. Another court took Athina’s inheritance away from the Onassis’ estate board, and transferred it to a firm in Switzerland.
On Athina’s 18th birthday, she was legally able to receive the $800 million passed down to her by her mother. However, her father took control of it under a power of attorney authorization, and soon put the money under the control of numerous international finance companies to manage the assets, leaving Athina with a $10,000 monthly allowance.
Although the young heiress was apparently comfortable with the deal at first, in 2004 Athina grew angry at the constant limitations her father put on her money, requesting an accounting of her assets, and revoking the authorization she gave him. In the end, Athina took control of her assets for the first time in 2005, but was denied the chief spot of the Onassis family estate, due to her lack of connection to her Greek heritage.
Did The Onassis Lose Their Fortunes?
While the Onassis estate hasn’t lost its riches, the truth is that the business isn’t what it used to be back in the 1950s. Even as early as 1975, New York Times financers reported that Aristotle’s large assets in the tanker business were going through a crisis, as a result of the market’s depression which followed the closure of the Suez Canal in the late 1960s.
Although his business hadn’t entered a crisis, by the time of Aristotle’s death in 1975, the Onassis family business wouldn’t be the same from then on. As reported by Forbes, it’s unclear what business moves and deals took place during the period in which Thierry Roussel and the Onassis estate board managed Athina’s assets, making it difficult to know what exactly she inherited from her mother Christine on her 18th birthday.
Athina Onassis’ net worth is calculated at less than $1 billion nowadays, but after the legal battle she faced against her father in her 20s and a very publicized divorce in 2017, the millionaire heiress prefers to keep a toned-down public life these days, maintaining some distance from the privileges that her fortune offers, and from the speculations of the alleged curse her family carries.