Christina Onassis, the only daughter of shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, died mysteriously in a bathtub in Argentina on November 19, 1988, making headlines throughout the world.
Her unhappy and unlucky life was the subject of tabloids for years.
Born in New York City in 1950 and raised by strangers in schools in France, Greece and England, Christina spent much of her life in conflict with her father, his lovers and eventually, her own husbands and lovers.
Her parents divorced in 1960 when she was 10 years old, precipitated by her father’s affair with opera singer Maria Callas. He eventually married U.S. First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy with whom Onassis clashed repeatedly.
Within a 29-month period, Christina lost her entire immediate family. Her brother, Alexander, died in a plane crash in Athens in 1973 at the age of 24, which devastated the family. Her mother died of a suspected drug overdose in 1974, leaving Christina her $77 million estate.
Following Alexander’s death, her father’s health began to deteriorate, and he died in March 1975. After losing her father, Christina renounced her U.S. citizenship and donated the American portion of her holdings in her father’s company to the American Hospital of Paris.
Upon Alexander’s death, Aristotle Onassis began grooming his daughter to take over the family business. She was sent to New York City to work in his office. After Aristotle’s death, she inherited 55% of his fortune, then estimated to be worth $500 million. The remaining 45% funded a foundation established in Alexander’s memory, the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation.
After a legal settlement, Jacqueline Onassis received $26 million from the estate. Christina was the focus of her father’s attention until his death; he considered her his successor and trained her in the business operations of the Onassis business empire. She carried the mantle of the Onassis shipping empire, successfully running the business after her father’s death.
Christina received considerable media attention for her lavish lifestyle, spending habits, and turbulent personal life. Despite her wealth, she was often unhappy with her frequent weight battles and inability to find lasting love.
Even before her death, the media had dubbed her “poor little rich girl.”
She went on frequent crash diets and would lose large amounts of weight, but gained it back when she became depressed. Diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 30, she was prescribed barbiturates, amphetamines, and sleeping pills. Onassis became addicted and was reportedly hospitalized for overdosing on sleeping pills in the 1970s.
Onassis had four marriages, each ending in divorce.
Her fourth and final marriage was to French businessman Thierry Roussel in 1984, with whom she had her only daughter, Athina.
On November 19, 1988, Christina’s body was found by her maid in the bathtub of a mansion in Buenos Aires, where she had been staying. An autopsy found no evidence of suicide, drug overdose or foul play, but found that Onassis had died of a heart attack caused by acute pulmonary edema. She was 37 years old.
The death and the speculation surrounding its cause made international headlines for weeks.
A private Greek Orthodox funeral was held for Christina on November 20 at a chapel on the Onassis-owned island of Skorpios, whereafter she was buried in the Onassis family plot in the island’s cemetery, alongside her father and brother.
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