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Christina Onassis Dies; Investigation Ordered

November 20, 1988|From Times staff and wire reports

Christina Onassis, whose inherited fortune from her Greek shipping tycoon father, Aristotle Onassis, made her one of the world's wealthiest women, died Saturday at 37. First reports suggested she had suffered a heart attack but officials ordered further investigation, news agencies reported.

The international socialite and stepdaughter of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was found unconscious in the bathroom of a vacation house at a country club near Buenos Aires.

The Argentine news agency Diarios y Noticias reported police were analyzing pills found at her side, Reuters said. Police said a judge ordered an investigation into her death, calling it "questionable."

Aunt's Comment

However, Onassis' aunt, Mary Onassis, ruled out any question of suicide and insisted the cause of death was a heart attack.

"Christina was in the best stage of her life," she told reporters. Burial will be in a private chapel on the family's Greek island of Skorpios alongside Christina's father and brother, the aunt said.

Police and news agencies said Christina Onassis was taken by helicopter 20 miles south to a private hospital in Buenos Aires, where she was pronounced dead. An autopsy was scheduled at the city morgue.

Despite her fame and fortune, the life of Aristotle Onassis' last surviving child was frequently marred by unhappiness.

Her parents divorced when she was a child. Within a span of 27 months, when she was not yet 24 years old, she lost her mother, Athina (Tina) Livanos, her father and her only brother. Aristotle Onassis died in 1975 of bronchial pneumonia. Her brother, Alexander, had died in a plane crash two years earlier.

Child Born in 1985

In January, 1985, Christina Onassis gave birth to her only child, Athina. Months later, her fourth marriage ended in divorce, as had three previous marriages.

Although she reportedly had battled weight problems for years and allegedly was hospitalized in the 1970s for a sleeping pill overdose, the news agency Noticias Argentinas quoted friends as saying Christina appeared to be in good health since her arrival in Argentina two weeks ago.

Onassis had been staying at the home of Marina Dodero, whose husband, Alberto, is the administrator of the Aristotle Onassis estate, according to Associated Press and Noticias Argentinas. Christina was the godmother of one of the Dodero children and a frequent visitor to Buenos Aires.

As a young man, Aristotle Onassis had lived in Argentina and was a naturalized Argentine citizen. Despite his impact on the shipping industry, the fortune he amassed and his lengthy affair with opera star Maria Callas, Aristotle Onassis' widespread fame in the United States came in 1968 when he married the widow of President John F. Kennedy. After Onassis' death, Jacqueline and Christina Onassis engaged in a bitter financial dispute.

Christina Onassis grew up in a world of luxury and celebrity. Her hometowns were Athens, Paris, New York, Monte Carlo and other destinations of the wealthy. In her private playroom on the 325-foot yacht her father named for her, young Christina played with dolls dressed in clothes designed by Dior and was taught by governesses in French and English. Family social gatherings might have included Greta Garbo or Sir Winston Churchill.

Student of Shipping

But after her father died, she made a determined effort to learn to run the shipping empire, returning to her New York City birthplace to study how to manage the estate of up to $1 billion. Later she returned to corporate headquarters in Monaco.

Ownership of the financial empire was shared by Christina Onassis and the Liechtenstein-based Alexander Onassis Foundation, established by her father in memory of her brother. The trust awards annual public achievement prizes to world personalities and institutions and grants graduate scholarships to Greek students.

In 1982, Christina Onassis was the first woman elected to the board of the Greek Union of Shipowners, one of the richest men's clubs in the world.

A worldwide decline in the shipping industry, however, reduced her empire to a mere $250 million or less in 1987, according to Forbes magazine.

Tired of Business

At the time of her fourth marriage in 1984, Reuters said, she indicated to reporters that she was growing tired of business and said she only wanted to be a loyal partner to her husband, Thierry Roussel, her sweetheart when they were teen-agers. They divorced in 1985.

Her first marriage at age 20 in 1971 was to Joseph Bolker, a Los Angeles real estate broker nearly twice her age. It ended after nine months. The second in 1975--four months after her father's death--was to Alexander Andreadis, heir to another Greek shipping fortune. They divorced in 1976.

In 1978, she again made headlines when she announced her marriage to Sergei Kauzov, a Russian government shipping official. They divorced less than two years later.

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