Argentina was always a significant country for the Onassis family. It was in Buenos Aires in 1955 that Aristotelis Onassis took his first steps to success and where he wrote his first letter. Thirty something years later, Christina Onassis died in the same city, closing the circle of the dynasty. Now the woman who knew her the best has written a book about her life and the last days of the last Onassis.
Marina Dodero and Christina Onassis met at a party in the summer of 1966. The sister of Aristotelis Onassis, Meropi Konialides thought that the smiling granddaughter of the ship owner George Empirikos would be good company for her 'difficult' and somewhat lonesome 15-year-old niece. She was right. The two girls hit it off immediately. And that is how a friendship that was to last for 22 years started, until November 19, 1998 - the day Marina Dodero would find her childhood friend dead , lying naked in the bathtub of her holiday home a little outside Buenos Aires.
Twenty five years after the death of Christina Onassis, Marina decided to write a book about her. About the 'girl with the big heart', their life together, the magic summers at Scorpios, her oddities, the fun times, their loves and the marriages of the 'golden heiress'. And naturally, about her final days and the incident which marked and irreparably shadowed her own life. The 24 chapter book, which will probably have the title 'My life with Christina", will be published by Random in Argentina in March. There is talk in Hollywood about the film rights of the book, as the excerpts which have seen the light of day tell the tale of a period about which little has been documented so far: the last days of Christina Onassis.
A NEW LIFE
October 1988 was cold and icy, but not more so than the heart of Christina Onassis. Once more she was alone, battling to accept her divorce from Thierry Roussel, his affair with Gaby and their children, the fact that he would take their daughter Athina to Switzerland, to the home of 'the other woman'. She escaped to Buenos Aires and from the summer was involved in a tender romance with Jorge Tchomlekdjoglo, the brother of Marina Dodero - a childhood friend, businessman (who was head of a huge textile mill) rich and prominent member of the Greek community of Buenos Aires. She declared herself in love. Out of the blue, she decided to live in Argentina, to make a new start. Once again, as she always did when newly in love - she checked into a Swiss clinic to lose weight. She dieted, underwent liposuction and shed 30 kilos. She also dyed her hair blonde. On October 19, the 37-year old Christina Onassis who flies to Argentina is very different from her old self. She celebrated the birthday of her friend with Marina, her family, and Jorge - Marina was turning 40 and complained. "Christina, because of you, everyone, all over the world knows how old I am."
Journalists followed her everywhere. At the end of October she returned to Europe, in all likelihood to settle the details of a permanent move to Argentina. At the beginning of November - and as she prepared to return - Athina falls ill. On November 9 she flies alone to Buenos Aires and moves into the presidential suite at the Alvear Hotel.
She was in a good mood, but constantly felt cold, shivering all the time - perhaps the first signs of a weak heart? However, she had a good time, went out, went to parties, met people, made plans. With Archbishop Yennadios of Argentina they discussed a memorial service she wanted to hold for her parents and brother. She confided in him that she wanted to have another child - a boy - to give him her father's name. Three days before she died, she visited Panagitsa, a small church that had recently been opened and took Holy Communion. As if she'd already decided her fate.
THE LAST DAY
November 18, 1988. On the last morning, the last day of her life, Christina Onassis appeared happy. She woke up early, called Marina - and was in the mood for a drive, she wanted to go to the hairdresser, have a manicure. They booked a noon appointment at Salon Talcahuano. For the first time in her life, Christina wanted to paint her nails dark red - she laughed like a young girl.
"Then," writes Marina Dodero "we went to the office of my brother George which at the time was on Αlsina road… Jorge and Christina got on very well. Christina would stay with him and I would go shopping and prepare our holiday home in Tortuguitas where we would spend the weekend. We set off in the afternoon, me, Alberto, and our daughters Carmen and Twitie-Christina."
They are arrived at the Tortuguitas Country Club early (the luxury resort where the Doderos rented their holiday villa) and started preparations for dinner. But the hours went by and Jorge and Christina did not show - later he said that she had fallen asleep on the couch of his office and he did not have a heart to wake her up …
It was a warm evening, everyone was wearing summer clothes, but Christina was cold.
She wore a red pullover and shivered. "I will never forgive you for telling me it was hot in Buenos Aires," she would moan good naturedly to Marina. They ate pasta, salad and asados and drank wine. They got warm.
"We sat at the table and it made an impression on me that after a considerable time Christina started talking about her father and brother, as well as about a number of other issues that she never used to talk about. It was something of a catharsis…..A statement of the love she had for her people. She was glowing with happiness."
When they met up, the two friends would sleep in the same room. But that evening Christina said she would be staying with Jorge "her darling" as she called him. In reality she had asked Jorge to accompany her as far as the chapel of the club to pray. When she returned, she went to her friend's room, told her about her ride and bid her good night.
"With a laugh she told me that she was very tired and that the only thing she wanted was a little sleep. She blew me a kiss and said 'goodnight' in Greek. That was the last time I saw her alive."
Around 1.30am Christina went into her room and shut the door behind her. She was alone. Usually when she was well she liked to be alone with the radio for company. Eleni Syrou, her loyal housekeeper, recalled later that the radio was on all night.
The next morning Marina Dodero looked for Christina but saw that she was not yet up. Worried, she went to her room and found her in the bathtub. At first she thought her friend had fallen asleep in the bath, as she tended to do.
"Eleni came to help me make the bed but as soon as she saw her face she started to scream. I could not believe what had happened. In a state of shock and I went to find my brother. With my former husband Alberto, Jorge went into the bath, lifted her body and laid it on the floor. I remember Christina's eyes open, looking at infinity."
It was a huge shock - the pain, fear, the question marks were equally enormous. What had happened? Three doctors went to the Tortuguitas Club, trying to find an answer and then Christina's lifeless body was taken to the Del Sol private clinic, which she co-owned.
The police were informed about 12 hours later, in an apparent desperate attempt to avoid a scandal. However, the autopsy left no room for suspicion or doubts: her death was not the result of a violent blow, her body had no marks on it, no scars or signs of violence. Similarly, no signs were found of excessive use of medicine or chemical substances. Christina had not been poisoned.
The conclusions were clear: death from natural causes. Pulmonary edema.
"It was two in the morning when they brought her to the church. Eleni had chosen a white, embroidered dress which gave her an angelic look. Her hands were joined and her smooth skin was swollen from the autopsy. But her red nails stood out." A touch of vanity - and much as the richest woman in the world could take with her.
A WOMAN IN SEARCH OF LOVE
On November 18, 2013, Marina Dodero held a memorial in Buenos Aires in memory of Christina Onassis - just as she has done every year on that date for 25 years. She says she cannot get over the loss of her friend. Her book is another way of honouring her.
"The first time I was asked to write a book about Christina was a few days after her death. Naturally it was impossible for me to do so. I was incredibly sad and deeply shocked. I gave a few interviews but that was it. I would never have written a book to make a show of her death. But now that so many years have passed, I wanted to show the real Christina, to write the true story and shed light on a matter which still haunts me."
But there is something else: "What prompted me to write a book is Christina's daughter Athena.
Christina had once told me that if anything happened to her, she wanted me to bring up, look after and supervise Athina. Unfortunately, a little after her death they deprived me of contact with the child. I was never able to see her and this hurts me, because I had promised her mother.
Christina was an excellent mother and had a big heart. In her life she wanted just two things: love and happiness."
By Kallia Kastani