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The Tragic Life of Jackie Kennedy’s Step-Daughter Christina Onassis

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch / CORBIS Historical / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch / CORBIS Historical / Getty Images

In the world of the uber-wealthy, the name Christina Onassis is synonymous with both opulence and sorrow. Better known as the step-daughter of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, she lived a life defined by immense riches, yet was burdened by the weight of tragedy that seemed to follow her every step. Here are 11 details about the poignant and tragic journey of Onassis, a woman whose life in the lap of luxury was marked by profound sadness and heartache.

An unwanted child

Christina and Alexander Onassis standing together on a yacht
Christine and Alexander Onassis, 1958. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Christina was born on December 11, 1950, into the incredibly rich Onassis family. Her father, Aristotle, had made the family fortune as an international shipping magnate. In 1946, he married Athina Livanos, with whom he had his first child, Alexander. Supposedly, the couple didn’t want to have any more children, as they thought it would make company inheritance tricky.

They went so far as to abort two pregnancies after Alexander, to ensure he remained an only child. That all changed when Athina became pregnant with Christina. Not wanting to risk her health, Athina refused to have another abortion, even when Aristotle allegedly tried to beat her into submission.

Christina’s father didn’t want her, and her mother resented how much she looked like her father.

Life with selective mutism

Christina, Aristotle and Alexander Onassis sitting together on a yacht
Christina Onassis with her father, Aristotle, and brother, Alexander, 1956. (Photo Credit: Slim Aarons / Getty Images)

Aristotle Onassis eventually came to love his daughter and enjoyed having her around. Despite this, he was frequently away running his growing billion-dollar business. Athina was also distanced from her children. She frequently felt like she wasn’t a good mother and left the raising of Christina and Alexander primarily to the family’s servants.

Between both parents, the children received scant affection. As a result, Christina simply stopped talking at the age of five. This solved the problem of attention, as suddenly there was significant interest from both of her parents as to why this happened and how to solve it. She was taken to a treatment center in Zürich, and it was determined that she had selective mutism.

Eventually, she outgrew it and said later in life that she didn’t remember it at all.

Manipulative parents

Onassis family standing together
Christina Onassis with her brother, Alexander, and parents, Aristotle and Athina, 1954. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Christina Onassis’ parents didn’t always ignore her, especially when it came to building their shipping empire. There were many occasions where she was used by both mother and father to try and grow their business.

According to the book, Heiress: The Story of Christina Onassis, Athina supposedly wanted to arrange a marriage between her daughter and Philippe Niarchos, Christina’s first cousin and heir to a close shipping rival. Shockingly, the pair gave it a shot, but ultimately decided that a union wasn’t going to happen.

Aristotle tried to arrange a different marriage many years later, this time to Peter Goulandris. Unsurprisingly, he was also an heir to a shipping company that Christina’s father wanted to make part of his dynasty. Athina helped try and pressure her daughter into the union, despite her repeated rejection of the idea.

Aristotle was persistent, and the idea only dropped because he died. However, he did make Christina promise on his deathbed that she would marry Peter.

An evil stepmother?

Christina Onassis and Jackie Kennedy sitting in the back of a car
Christina Onassis and Jacky Kennedy in Paris, 1975. (Photo Credit: Daniel Simon / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

Tensions between the Onassis parents never really dissipated, and they ended up getting a divorce when Christina was eight, after Aristotle had a very public affair with opera singer Maria Callas.

Despite Athina also engaging in extramarital relations, Christina saw her father’s mistress as the reason why their family wasn’t getting back together. This likely contributed to her intense dislike of his new wife, none other than Jackie Kennedy. The pair married roughly five years after John F. Kennedy‘s assassination.

Even though Christina had years to get used to their marriage, she never did. She allegedly cried – not tears of joy – all the way through their wedding! On one occasion, she called Kennedy “my father’s unfortunate obsession.” It’s said that part of the reason why she didn’t like Kennedy was because she didn’t trust her, perhaps due to the vast age difference between the former first lady and Aristotle.

A period of immense loss

Funeral procession for Aristotle Onassis
Funeral procession for Aristotle Onassis, 1954. (Photo Credit: Michel Artault / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

While a new stepmother might not be the most tragic thing to happen to Christina Onassis, the period that followed certainly was.

Within 29 months, she lost all the members of her immediate family. Alexander, at only 24 years old, was the first to die while training a new pilot in his personal plane over Athens. Her mother followed next in 1974 after overdosing, leaving Christina her entire $77 million estate.

In March 1975, Aristotle was the final one to die. His health had gradually declined since Alexander’s death, as he believed it was caused by foul play. In those years, he had also been preparing Christina to take over his company, which she did successfully after she was the only surviving Onassis.

She inherited $500 million from her father – 55 percent of his savings. She decided to donate the portion from his American endeavors to the American Hospital of Paris.

Murderer in the family

Stavros Niarchos wearing a suit and tie
Rival Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos, 1976. (Photo Credit: Central Press / Getty Images)

Just as Aristotle believed Alexander was murdered, Christina Onassis believed Athina had been. After the Onassis’ divorce, her mother remarried Stavros Niarchos, the widower who’d been married to her sister, Eugenie Livanos. Although he was family, he was also one of the rivals of their shipping dynasty.

Before Alexander and Aristotle died, they agreed with Christina that he’d likely killed Eugenie. Athina evidently disagreed.

Her death only added fuel to the fire for Christina, who sought an autopsy on her mother’s body and went to the press with her suspicions. Stavros was extremely unhappy about these accusations and retaliated by releasing information about Christina and her struggles with depression to the press. He went one step further, saying it was stress over Christina which caused Athina’s death.

Struggles with extreme depression

Christina Onassis walking down a street
Christina Onassis in Paris, 1975. (Photo Credit: Michel Artault / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

Stavros Niarchos wasn’t making it up when he claimed Christina Onassis had tried to end her life. She struggled with depression, only receiving a formal diagnosis in her 30s. Many times, she’d made attempts on her own life by overdosing on pills. The first instance was when she found out that her mother was going to marry Stavros, despite Christina’s suspicion that he’d murdered her aunt.

A second incident occurred during her period of courting Peter Goulandris, the man her father wanted her to marry. According to All the Pain Money Can Buy: The Life of Christina Onassis, the final episode allegedly happened right after her father’s death, an extremely trying period for her. She was in the hospital during his final hours and somehow managed to steal some surgeon’s tools. Hospital staff stopped her from drastically injuring her wrists when they caught her in the act.

Four unhappy marriages

Christina Onassis and Thierry Roussel dressed in wedding attire
Christina Onassis and her fourth husband, Thierry Roussel, on their wedding day, 1984. (Photo Credit: Harry Dempster / Daily Express / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Aside from depression, one of the most prevalent themes in Christina Onassis’ existence was her disastrous love life. She was married four times, none of them ending with happiness, as she generally believed they just wanted her money. Moreso, her family was more than happy to meddle in her affairs.

Her first husband, Joseph Bolker, was the target of a smear campaign started by none other than Aristotle because he didn’t like the pair’s age difference or that Bolker was Jewish. Her second husband, Alexander Andreadis, seemed ideal as a fellow shipping magnate. What the family didn’t know until after they were married was that his company was going under. He tried to prevent this by asking for $20 million from Christina. Needless to say, their marriage didn’t last long.

Her final husband, Thierry Roussel, was no better, as he had an affair. However, the most interesting of these men was her third husband, Sergei Kauzov.

Her KGB husband

Christina Onassis and Sergei Kauzov standing together
Christina Onassis and her husband, Sergei Kauzov, during their wedding ceremony at the Central Wedding Palace in Moscow, 1978. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Sergei Kauzov was involved in the Russian shipping industry, although nothing as grand as the Onassis’ business. There were some things about him that didn’t line up, namely that his lavish lifestyle wasn’t sustainable based on his earnings. Suspicions arose that he was actually a KGB agent who married Christina in a bid to get information out of her.

There was never any evidence that this was true, and many spoke out against the idea in later years. Nonetheless, their marriage was destined to end in failure like the rest of them. Christina lived in Moscow with Sergei, which she found incredibly boring. After a period of time, the spark was gone from their relationship, and she lost feelings for him. They divorced less than two years later.

Unrequited love

Christina Onassis standing near a mirror in her apartment
Christina Onassis in Paris, 1980. (Photo Credit: Michel Dufour / WireImage / Getty Images)

Perhaps part of Christina Onassis’ curse with love came from the fact she was never able to capture the man she really wanted to be with. She became obsessed with the heir to the Mercedes Benz fortune, Mick Flick, although he had no interest in her.

She tried to date him many times over the years, but he always turned her down. This didn’t put her off. Instead, Christina tried to make herself more appealing to him. On one occasion, she dyed her dark hair blonde, as she found out that he preferred women with light hair. None of her ploys worked.

A grim end

Men standing in suits along the exterior of a chapel
Funeral of Christina Onassis on the island of Skorpios, Greece, 1988. (Photo Credit: Patrick Siccoli / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

Tragically, Christina Onassis’ life came to an end when she was only 37 years old, on November 19, 1988. With what appeared to be tragedy after tragedy, she’d been dubbed “poor little rich girl” by the press.

Given her state of well-being and the suddenness of her death, a full investigation was conducted, but there was no evidence of murder, overdose or self-harm.

More from us: Inside The Kennedy ‘Curse’ — The Family’s Strange Misfortunes Never Seem To Stop

Christina Onassis was buried alongside her brother and father in the family plot on the island of Skorpios, Greece. Her entire $250 million fortune was left to her daughter, Athina, who was born during her final marriage.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.