Businessman. A Greek shipping magnate, he is best remembered as the second husband of former First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. During his lifetime, he was one of the richest and most famous men in the world, with his name becoming synonymous with extreme wealth. Born in Smyrna, in the Ottoman Empire (now Izmir, Turkey), to Socrates and Penelope Onassis. His father managed a fleet of ten ships, enabling him to send his children to prestigious private schools. By the age of 16, Aristotle spoke four languages: Greek, Turkish, English and Spanish. After being occupied by Greece for three years following World War I, Turkey and Greece went to war and Turkey recaptured the city of Smyrna; the Greek Onassis family was forced to flee the city and Onassis lost three uncles and an aunt who were murdered by Turkish forces. In 1923, Aristotle Onassis moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he obtained work with the British United River Plate Telephone Company, and began his own company, making cigarettes from imported Turkish tobacco. Within the next four years, he was a millionaire, due in part to many of his illegal doings, such as smuggling tobacco into Argentina to avoid paying duties, and manufacturing cigarettes under other brand names without paying royalties. Onassis would also use bribe government officials to obtain favorable consideration for his illegal activities. In 1925, he obtained dual Greek and Argentine citizenship. In 1931, he obtained Greek tax exemptions for his ships, and was given the title of Vice Consul to Argentina, which greatly increased his status in both countries. In 1938, Onassis built a 15,000 ton tanker, the Ariston, considered the largest tanker in the world at the time, and which became the forerunner of the supertankers which would dominate oil transports for the next 60 years following the war. During World War II, Onassis reflagged his ships to Panama, which gave them favorable tax-free status, and his company was able to become one of the lowest cost merchant shipping firms in the world, obtaining high profits. In a deal with the US Government, he shipped military equipment at low prices, in exchange for the US Government granting him war surplus cargo ships at the end of the war for extremely favorable prices. At the end of the war, Onassis controlled one of the largest privately owned fleets in the world, and the press began to refer to him as the "Golden Greek." His shipping firm would make him one of the most prosperous businessmen in the world, shipping mostly ore and oil around the world. Between 1950 and 1956, Onassis would operate a fleet a whalers, until he was accused of killing infant whales illegally, and then he sold his fleet at great profit to the Japanese to avoid prosecution. Onassis was married in 1946 to Athina Livanos, daughter of Greek shipping magnate Stavros Livanos, with whom he had two children, Alexander (born 1948) and Christina (born 1950), although the marriage would end in divorce when he began an affair with opera diva Maria Callas in 1957. Despite the open knowledge that he was involved with Maria Callas, he pursued Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of US President John F. Kennedy. In the years immediately following JFK's assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy was considered one of the most eligible bachelorettes in the world's social elite. Onassis publicly ended his long-term relationship with Callas to marry Kennedy on October 20, 1968, after agreeing to a marriage contract that was considered highly controversial in its time. The contract stated that Kennedy would receive $3 million cash and $1 million for each son, and if Onassis should die, she would receive $150,000 every year for the rest of her life. Relationships between Jacqueline Kennedy and Onassis's daughter, Christine, would be chilly for the rest of their lives. In the last years of his life, Onassis suffered from myasthenia gravis, and he died in 1975 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France from bronchial pneumonia, a complication of his weakened condition. Onassis's will gave his daughter Christina 55% of his estate and control over his companies, with the remaining 45% used to establish the Alexander Onassis Foundation in honor of his deceased son, who had died in an airplane crash in 1973. His wife, Jackie, reportedly received $10 million dollars, although the exact amount has not been revealed.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson