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'The Poor Little Rich Girl' : Autopsy Held as Friends Mourn Christina Onassis

November 21, 1988|JAMES F. SMITH | Times Staff Writer

BUENOS AIRES — About two dozen friends and relatives gathered in a Greek Orthodox chapel Sunday to mourn the death of Christina Onassis in the city where her father began his rise from dishwasher to billionaire.

Onassis, the 37-year-old heir to Aristotle Onassis' shipping empire, died of an apparent heart attack Saturday at an exclusive vacation complex on the northern edge of the capital.

Argentine newspapers poured forth pages of eulogies and details of the life of a woman La Nacion described as "the poor little rich girl" who had everything but happiness.

Judge Luis Nino called the death "questionable," and an autopsy was conducted Saturday night. News reports said pills were found by her side, possibly part of her weight-watching regimen to combat chronic obesity. But family members said she had been in good health and discounted the possibility of suicide.

Four Failed Marriages

Between her four failed marriages, Onassis came to Argentina from time to time to be in the company of old friends, to hear some tango music and to escape the jet-set circuit. She was staying with the family of Alberto Dodero, who administered her fortune, and his wife, Marina, a childhood friend, and was said to be considering the purchase of a vacation house in the complex.

Marina Dodero said the body would be flown to Geneva within a day or two, en route to the Greek island of Skorpios. Her father, who died of bronchial pneumonia in 1975, and her brother, Alexander, who died in a plane crash in 1973, also are buried on the island.

Her last husband, French businessman Thierry Roussel, was expected to arrive Sunday with Onassis' only child, 3-year-old Athina. Onassis married Roussel in 1984, and they were divorced last year.

Aristotle Onassis came to Argentina in 1922, washing dishes and taking other odd jobs. With Alberto Dodero, the father of Christina Onassis' current administrator, Aristotle Onassis entered the shipping business, buying, refitting and selling old ships. His fortune came to exceed $1 billion, by most accounts, although the downturn in the shipping industry in the 1970s and 1980s sliced the value of the family fortune to about $250 million by October, 1987, according to Forbes magazine.

Aristotle Onassis and his daughter held joint Argentine and Greek citizenship, and both maintained their business and personal ties to the country. Christina Onassis assumed control of the Onassis shipping business after her father died, after having named her as the sole heir.

Claudia Acuna, writing in the liberal newspaper Pagina 12 (Page 12), said that "Christina Onassis chose to die in Buenos Aires." The paper said she had been "an unattractive multimillionaire, fat, depressed, somewhat capricious, capable of changing husbands as if changing clothes."

"They say she wasn't frivolous, just unhappy," Acuna wrote. "The dollars always seemed to crush her relations with men, with friends, with life."

Likened to Modern Princess

La Prensa, one of Argentina's oldest and most conservative newspapers, called Christina Onassis "a woman surrounded by a worldly aura of sympathy and compassion. She was a kind of modern princess, touched by fortune and at the same time by misfortune. Her death, in the fullness of youth, closes a story that perhaps teaches us: Money is not always the source of happiness."

Journalists were refused entry at the Turtles Country Club and at the city morgue, where the autopsy was conducted. But photographers were allowed briefly into the Greek Orthodox chapel Sunday morning before the service, where Christina Onassis lay at rest.

Her face was made up lightly and a rose was placed in her folded hands, along with a portrait of St. George. Later, the coffin, with a smoked glass cover, was closed for the private service.

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