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Aristotle Onassis > A Greek super rich legend October 9, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Arts Exhibitions Greece.

Aristotle Onassis still fascinates the Greeks and the world around 
His rags to riches story is the stuff of legend, while his personal life could well be the script of an ancient Greek tragedy. One of modern Greece’s most famous sons, shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis built a vast empire over four decades with sheer determination, audacity and cunning entrepreneurial spirit.

He died bitter and lonely in 1975, a shadow of the man who claimed to rule the world, two years after his only son, Alexander, was killed in a mysterious plane crash, an Athens exhibition on the centenary of his birth shows.

A Greek refugee from the prosperous Ottoman city of Smyrna who made his first millions in Argentina in the 1920s, Onassis’s near-mythical life is depicted in hundreds of personal items, private photographs and paintings exhibited at the Benaki Museum.

His great wealth, his passionate affair with soprano Maria Callas, and his 1968 wedding to the widow of assassinated US president John F. Kennedy, all point to the strong-minded, and sometimes even ruthless, character of the most celebrated of Greek shipping magnates.

“He had an unparalleled determination. I would say he had an audacity no one else had,” exhibition curator Sofia Handaka said. “Onassis was a visionary who could see further into the future than any of his peers and that is reflected in his entrepreneurial success.”

The exhibition, which opened on Thursday, is staged by the Alexander Onassis Foundation, which the tycoon set up to keep his son’s name alive after he died in 1973.

“Onassis essentially died the day Alexander died,” Handaka said. “Whatever he had built until then meant nothing to him after this event.”

That included a fleet of oil tankers, the Olympic Airways carrier, a long list of prime real-estate from New York to Paris, a private Greek island and the most luxurious private yacht at the time named after his daughter Christina. It was on that yacht that he lavishly entertained the world’s rich and famous in the 1950s and 60s.

Rare pictures include British Prime Minister Winston Churchill casually chatting with Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito at the height of the Cold War on board the Christina.
“He must have been a real charmer, a man with a very special aura and talents,” said an elderly exhibition visitor. “But while everything about him is mythical, you feel that real happiness always eluded him.”

Handaka said the exhibits, from an array of ship models built by 18th century French prisoners in England used to decorate the corridors of the Christina, to the extravagant menu of his first dinner with Callas, aimed at presenting his multi-faceted character.

Several hunting guns and cigarette lighters in the shape of whaling canons speak of an aggressive, possessive man. The blood-stained handkerchief of his son the day he died tells more about what he lost in life than what he gained.

His only other child, Christina, who saw her father, brother and mother die in a period of just 24 months, passed away in Argentina in 1988, survived by her daughter Athina.

“He was a global ambassador for Greece and he carried his Greekness with him,” Handaka said. “In a single word, the man was unique.”

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