Born on January 20th, 1906, in Smyrna, Greece, Aristotle Onassis was an ambitious boy from an early age. It was in the River Plate Telephone Company that he started to build up his capital. He would lie about his age, adding on 6 years, and say that he was born in Athens. Legend tells how he requested night shifts to listen to the conversations of stockholders from the USA, Great Britain and Switzerland, and then invest in shares of any company undergoing

significant growth which would enable him to earn substantial sums of money. He later got into the business of Greek and Turkish tobacco, with which he obtained lucrative contracts, and meanwhile, he began to focus on the maritime shipping industry. By the age of 28, Aristotle was already a millionaire. Despite the Great Depression of 1929, his business was not negatively affected, and he consolidated his transactions by buying and building cargo ships at a low price.

Another of his extravagances was the Greek Island of Skorpios, in the Ionian Sea, which he bought for Maria Callas. Aristotle was buried on Skorpios, as were his son and daughter, Alexander and Christina.

Thanks to his business expertise and power of persuasion, as well as the adept use of certain types of information, his success as an entrepreneur was guaranteed, first in the tobacco industry and later in the naval industry.

He got into the cargo ship business thanks to a series of strong investments, and a marriage of convenience to Athina Mary Livanos, member of one of the most important pioneering families in maritime shipping.

In 1930, Aristotle Onassis earned his first million dollars in the naval industry, at the age of 25. By 1932, he had become quite an entrepreneur, who already owned oil tankers and whaling ships, expanding his business internationally. In 1954, he closed his biggest financial transaction when he was basically granted the monopoly in oil transportation in Saudi Arabia.

Testimony to his resourcefulness, ingenuity and power of persuasion, he was granted a loan of 40 million USD to build new ships, pledging his contract with the Oil Company as security; the amount being, for a time, equal to that of his contract with the company.

Ari, as his close friends called him, often commented that this «great opportunity for his business was like if someone was lent money to acquire a property from the Rockefellers, even if the house was in ruins, the lender wouldn’t care. The fact that it belonged to the Rockefellers is enough.»

By 1957, Aristotle had managed to establish a consolidated fleet of cargo ships. Then he went on to expand his ​​activities to air transport, founding the Greek airline, OLYMPIC Airways. He also invested in real estate in New York and in the Principality of Monaco. This was when he achieved the title of richest man in the world.

 Although his career as an entrepreneur was brilliant, his sentimental life was a different matter. His private life was a decadent, frantic, eccentric life, full of excesses and extravagances.


Rather than physical attraction, women were won over by Onassis’ charm and the intriguing ambience that surrounded him, not to mention his obscene fortune. Veronica Lake, Gloria Swanson, Margot Fonteyn and Greta Garbo… Maria Callas, opera diva and his true love, and Jacqueline Kennedy. His first wife was Tina Livanos, who was only 16 years old when he married her. Fruit of this marriage, his 2 children were born.

On October 20th, 1968, Aristotle Onassis began an affair with Jacqueline Kennedy, while he was still involved with Maria Callas.The widow of John Fitzgerald Kennedy insisted on getting married, and of course, the tycoon happily agreed, because he stood to gain more power and personal influence with the marriage, thanks to Jackie’s prestige, status and contacts.

Having been forced to sign a marriage contract, not long after the wedding, Jackie began to show signs of having capricious, expensive, very eccentric tastes, which Aristotle had to concede, no matter how extravagant they were, just to please her.

However, he got tired of this behaviour and decided to look for and go back to Maria Callas. It is said that she was indisputably Aristotle’s one true love.

Aristotle and Maria met at a masked ball which took place at the Hotel Danieli in Venice. He was 53 years old and she was only 33. Both of Greek origin, they met and complemented each other perfectly. The lovers’ story is told in detail by the American writer, Nicholas Gage, in his book «Greek Fire«. A 600-page volume, full of previously unpublished testimonies which bear witness to the turbulent sentimental relationship, considered a Greek tragedy, and which became the talk of the town, due to the fact that they were both married.

Onassis’ strategy to seduce María Callas began in Paris, in December 1958, at one of the acclaimed singer’s presentations, filling her dressing room and house with red roses.

The story followed its course on the luxurious yacht «Christina O» on July 22nd, 1959. The important society figures of the time who were aboard the yacht observed the romance, perplexed: «First Onassis would hold her hand on the outings, and then they’d have dinner alone.»

The rest is history… but I hope you’ve found it interesting.

Ana Pavón

By: Ana Pavon

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