Onassis contacted infamous lawyer Roy Cohn to discuss his options for divorce. Because he had assets in the United States as well as Greece, he needed American representation. But the discussions were cut short.
On January 22, 1973, the plane Alexander Onassis was piloting crashed on takeoff. He suffered severe head trauma and irreversible brain damage and died the next day. Onassis was inconsolable and never fully recovered from his grief. Although he still intended to divorce Jackie, his health failed him first.
Jackie was in New York when she got a phone call from Christina that Aristotle had collapsed with severe abdominal pains. Christina also called prominent New York heart specialist Isadore Rosenfeld, who flew to Athens with Jackie. At the hospital, Rosenfeld and Jean Caroli, a gastroenterologist from Paris, met to discuss Onassis's condition. The two specialists deeply disagreed on how to best treat Onassis. Caroli wanted him transported to the American Hospital in Paris to have his gall bladder removed. Rosenfeld believed Onassis was far too weak to undergo surgery but should fly to New York for treatment. Christina made the decision to let Caroli perform the surgery.
Onassis was so weak his butler had to carry him to the car as they left for Paris. His gall bladder was removed on February 10. His condition immediately worsened, and he was placed on life support. Although it was clear he was dying, doctors told Jackie it would not be a quick passing. During his time in the hospital, Jackie commuted between Paris and New York, where her children were. In March, she flew back to New York to host a small dinner party on the night an NBC documentary that Caroline had worked on was airing.
The American Hospital of Paris was founded in 1906. It is a private, not-for-profit hospital that is equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment. The medical staff includes more than 500 physicians and surgeons. It is also the only civilian hospital in Europe accredited by America's Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, known for its rigorous standards.
Christina never left her father's side, nor did she want to share him in his final hours. When Onassis was finally near death, she instructed the doctors not to inform anyone. It was Onassis's sister, Artemis, who called Jackie and told her to hurry back to Paris. But as she was packing to leave the following morning, on March 15, Artemis called to say Onassis had died. Only Christina had been at his bedside.
Jackie Onassis with her children at Aristotle Onassis's funeral, 1975
Photo Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
In the aftermath of Aristotle's death, Jackie came under intense criticism in the Greek media for being in New York when her husband died. Her lack of tears during the funeral further ostracized her from the Greek public. However, she promised Christina that she would keep the Onassis name permanently.
THEY SAID …
“Once I was visiting Jackie in her New York apartment, after Ari Onassis died…. Christina unexpectedly dropped in. Jackie and Christina sat there, telling stories about Ari and laughing together. They certainly were not fighting.”
— Mark Riboud, in As We Remember Her
In April, the New York Times published a story about Ari's intention to divorce Jackie. The article also discussed Christina's bitterness toward her former stepmother. The story upset Jackie so much she called Christina and asked her to deny it, which she did. But the negotiation between the lawyers for Jackie's financial settlement was tense and drawn-out.
Christina claimed there was no will and initially offered Jackie a couple million dollars. After the two agreed to $20 million, Onassis's will surfaced. According to the terms of the handwritten will, Christina inherited 55 percent of her father's estate. The other 45 percent went to fund the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation. Jackie's attorneys threatened legal action, claiming that Christina had intentionally misrepresented herself. The final settlement was reached in September 1977. In addition to the $20 million, Jackie would receive $200,000 a year for the rest of her life. Caroline and John would get $25,000 a year until they reached the age of twenty-one. All payments were to be adjusted for inflation. In exchange, Jackie agreed to give up her share of Skorpios, Ari's yacht, and her position on the board of the Onassis Foundation.