Aristotle Socrates Onassis was born on January 20, 1900, in Karatass, a suburb of Smyrna. He was the son of a wealthy Greek trader and Turkish citizen named Socrates Onassis. He inherited his business ability from his father, and from his uncle Alexander came the "Greekness" of his ideas of passion, love, loyalty and revenge.
Onassis survived the sacking of Smyrna by the Turkish army in 1922 by pretending to be sixteen, thus not eligible to fight. He escaped and, after living on his wits in Constantinople, Athens and Naples, emigrated to South America. In Buenos Aires he made a fortune in tobacco, and simultaneously moved into shipping, traveling between London and Athens, Buenos Aires and Paris.
By 1940 he was living in New York, and already a millionaire. It was around this time when he decided to move to California and live the life of a Hollywood playboy, thus promoting his image as a great lover. While in Hollywood he had a brief affair with Gloria Swanson, Joe Kennedy's mistress, and struck up many friendships with Hollywood's elite. Finally, in 1946 he decided it was time to settle down and have a family. He set his sights on Athina Livanos, daughter of Stavros Livanos, the biggest shipowner of them all.
Athina, also known as Tina, was seventeen when Onassis married her (he was forty-six). Marrying Tina was a sort of revenge for Onassis, who loathed Stavros Livanos and the exclusive union of Greek shipowners who had refused to let him in on a profitable deal with the U.S. government.
In 1953 he gained control of the company SBM (Societé des Bains de Mar Cercle des Étrangers), which virtually controlled Monaco. He now owned part of a casino, the Hotel de Paris and the yacht club, which represented one-third of the real estate in Monaco.
Onassis's next big deal was to try and wrestle control of the Aramco deal, which was an exclusive deal with the Saudis to exploit and transport their oil. It was at this point that the American government stood up and took note of Onassis and his business dealings. Realizing that this deal could hurt their relationship with the Saudi's within the oil trade Onassis was indicated on virtually-trumped charges in New York for conspiracy to defraud, which left an unpleasant shadow over his reputation. It was because of this that he lost the deal with the Saudis. Socially, however, he went from strength to strength; and from his base in Monte Carlo he captured the biggest fish of them all, Winston Churchill. The two men become very close and kept in constant touch until Churchill's death in 1964.
In 1956, the Suez crisis made his fortune unimaginably larger: when the war caused the closing of the Suez Canal, Onassis was the only major independent shipowner with a fleet available to cash in on the rush for vessels to carry oil around the cape. It was also during this time that Onassis met Jackie Kennedy during a cruise with Winston Churchill and the young senator John F. Kennedy.
By 1957 Onassis's marriage began to fall apart. His infidelities had left the young Tina to her own devices, and while her husband was away she become addicted to painkillers and alcohol. Even though they had two children together, Alexandros born in 1948 and Christina born in 1950, they were only spending time together when it was socially necessary.
In the summer of 1958 Onassis invited the Churchills and another couple to join him and his family on a cruise through the Greek islands aboard his yacht, the Christina; this cruise was the last time Aristotle and Tina would be together. The other couple was none other than Maria Callas and her husband, Battista Maneghini. Ari, as Maria liked to call him, and Callas immediately fell in love and started an affair right there on the boat with their spouses only a few suites away. By the time the summer was over Tina had filed for divorce from Onassis, and Maria was seeking separation from her husband.
The affair between Maria Callas, the famous Greek opera singer, and Aristotle Onassis, the wealthy Greek playboy, was the stuff of tabloid headlines. While he never did marry her, their affair was a very public one, and remained so for nine years up until his marriage to Jackie Kennedy in 1968. Yet even after this marriage to the famous first lady he never stopped seeing Maria.
It was during this time with Maria that he bought the island of Scorpios and turned in into his home.
In the summer of 1963 Onassis had another fateful cruise aboard the Christina. When Jackie Kennedy, now the first lady of the U.S., had a miscarriage she decided she needed to get away from Washington. She and her sister, Lee Radziwel, took up Onassis's offer to take them on a cruise and let her grieve while being out of the public eye. It was on this vacation that Onassis realized how important it was that he get in good with the Kennedys, because ever since he had been indicted in the U.S. he had been unable to do any business with the American government. He thought that if he became friends with the Kennedys he would be able to start up trading with the U.S again.
His hopes were not entirely dashed when the young J. F. Kennedy was assassinated because he turned his attention to the next heir apparent of the Kennedy family, Bobby. During the years leading up to 1968 Onassis kept in constant contact with Jackie and Bobby, but when Bobby too was assassinated he knew his chances had died. But Jackie had become terrified; she feared for her childrens safety, so she decided to go to Onassis for help. They made an arrangement: he would marry her and give her and her children the protection she craved, and she would be his trophy wife, someone to show off at parties to his business associates. The two got married in a little chapel on his island in 1968 . It was only one month after the marriage that Onassis went back to Paris to be with Maria.
In 1973 tragedy struck the Onassis family. Alexander, Aristotle's only son, was killed in a private plane crash. Onassis was devastated. It was after his son's death that his health began to deteriorate. He no longer took care of himself and carried nothing for his businesses.
In 1975 Aristotle Onassis, the world's richest man, died in a Paris hospital with his daughter Christina by his side. His mistress had fled the hospital because of all the photographers, and his wife was in New York giving a party for her daughter, Caroline.
Onassis was buried next to his son on the island of Scorpios, and his fortune, including all his businesses, were inherited by his daughter. Jackie only received a small amount of his money.
When Christina Onassis died in 1988 her three year old daughter, Athina Roussel Onassis became the sole heir of the Onassis fortune.