In­side story:

For much of her young life, Athina Onas­sis, daugh­ter of oil heiress Christina Onas­sis, was known as the “poor lit­tle rich girl”, cut off from a world her mother thought would take ad­van­tage of her. Now that she’s di­vorc­ing an un­faith­ful hus­band, writes Wi

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

tragic heiress – the Onas­sis curse strikes again

Eleven years ago, when Athina Onas­sis, heiress to one of the world’s great for­tunes, mar­ried raff­ish Olympic rid­ing star Al­varo “Doda” de Mi­randa Neto, the 750 guests wit­nessed not just a spec­tac­u­lar cer­e­mony, but a rare mo­ment of hap­pi­ness in the trou­bled his­tory of the Onas­sis dy­nasty.

Dressed in whispering white silk by Valentino, her hair styled in the man­ner of the Greek god­dess of love, Aphrodite, Athina seemed to have mirac­u­lously re­cap­tured the tar­nished glam­our of her fam­ily name. With her hand­some hus­band at her side and a bouzouki band strum­ming mer­rily, the bride led the wedding party into a tra­di­tional, hand-clap­ping dance.

The mu­sic stopped abruptly ear­lier this year, when a se­cu­rity guard at one of the cou­ple’s homes found Doda,

43, in bed with a young blonde. Hard as Doda tried to hush things up, the news soon reached Athina, 31, who is now su­ing for di­vorce.

With the end of her marriage comes an omi­nously fa­mil­iar echo of be­trayal, tragedy and scan­dal. One of the rich­est, most chron­i­cled young women of the age, Athina was raised to van­quish the “curse” that sup­pos­edly hangs over the Onas­sis fam­ily, but seems in­stead to have suc­cumbed to it.

Doda, who rode for his na­tive

Brazil in this year’s Olympics, begged for for­give­ness, later telling a Brazil­ian news­pa­per that he hoped the cou­ple could re­build their marriage. “I am go­ing to fight to the end,” he said. “I can­not ac­cept that this is over.” Athina ap­pears to have reached a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion, storm­ing out of the lav­ish, ranch-style home they were shar­ing in Florida and head­ing back to Europe, where she is now in a guarded Swiss villa over­look­ing Lake Geneva.

The fall-out from the cou­ple’s split is un­likely to be pretty. Athina has hired the fear­some

New York di­vorce lawyer Robert Co­hen, whose pre­vi­ous celebrity clients in­clude ac­tress

Uma Thur­man, su­per­model Christie Brink­ley and Ivana Trump, ex-wife of the US Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump. De­scribed by a US mag­a­zine as “ev­ery er­rant hus­band’s worst night­mare”, Co­hen fa­mously forced Christie’s for­mer hus­band, ar­chi­tect Peter Cook, 57, to give ev­i­dence in open court about his in­fi­delity with his 18-year-old as­sis­tant. Peter later likened the ex­pe­ri­ence to be­ing given “a public flog­ging”.

The break-up, though, will be no less painful for Athina, who seemed for a while to have an im­mu­nity to her fam­ily’s mis­for­tunes. “I don’t be­lieve in curses, but I’d re­ally rather for­get the name Onas­sis,” she once said. “It’s the cause of a lot of our prob­lems.” Aged 17, she met Doda on the eques­trian cir­cuit and mar­ried him against the ad­vice of those who warned that she was too young and un­worldly.

“She is a beau­ti­ful girl, quite sen­si­tive,” says Alexis Mantheakis, a for­mer Onas­sis PR ex­ec­u­tive, who has known her since child­hood. “But un­derneath, she’s a steel doll. There’s a very ob­sti­nate na­ture be­hind the out­ward ap­pear­ance. Her grand­fa­ther was just the same.”

Athina’s grand­fa­ther was the leg­endary ship­ping ty­coon Aris­to­tle Onas­sis – known to in­ter­na­tional high so­ci­ety as the Golden Greek. A ruth­less, self-made bil­lion­aire, his loves in­cluded opera diva Maria Cal­las and sec­ond wife Jac­que­line Kennedy, widow of as­sas­si­nated US Pres­i­dent JFK. For all he achieved, Ari died in 1975 a tor­mented soul, who had come to bit­terly regret his life of ex­cess and self-in­dul­gence.

Ha­bit­u­ally dressed in a dark, dou­ble­breasted suit and wrap­around sun­glasses, Ari’s ma­cho style ex­tended into the treat­ment of the women in his life. He pub­licly hu­mil­i­ated his first wife, Tina Li­vanos, with his in­fi­deli­ties, left Maria a bro­ken­hearted wreck, and used Jackie as lit­tle more than a jet-set vis­it­ing card.

Such good­ness as he could muster was al­most en­tirely in­vested in his adored only son, Alexan­der, who died in a freak plane crash in 1973. Dis­traught, Ari fi­nally reached out for com­fort to his sur­viv­ing child, Christina, only to dis­cover that the emo­tional gulf be­tween them – the re­sult of his years of ne­glect – was too great to breach. Des­per­ate to atone be­fore his own death, Ari di­vided

his enor­mous for­tune into two parts. One went to es­tab­lish a char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion in Alexan­der’s mem­ory. The other went en­tirely to Christina.

The in­her­i­tance in­cluded ev­ery­thing from su­per­tankers to Man­hat­tan sky­scrapers, from old masters to oil wells, but it didn’t make Christina happy. So­cially awk­ward, plagued by weight prob­lems and emo­tion­ally dam­aged by her fa­ther’s cold­ness, she had en­dured an un­happy child­hood, much of it spent liv­ing in ho­tel suites in Paris, Lon­don and New York. Heav­ily de­pen­dent on an­tide­pres­sants and ap­petite sup­pres­sants, she mar­ried, un­suc­cess­fully, three times, with none of the mar­riages pro­duc­ing the child she longed for.

Then, in 1984 Christina mar­ried Thierry Rous­sel, a cash-strapped French play­boy, who would be­come Athina’s fa­ther.

Among most fol­low­ers of the Onas­sis saga, Thierry is one of the prime vil­lains. Born into a dis­tin­guished in­dus­trial fam­ily, he had squan­dered much of his own in­her­i­tance on par­ties and the pur­suit of beau­ti­ful women. Christina quickly be­came in­fat­u­ated with him and af­ter of­fer­ing to “reg­u­larise” his fi­nances to the tune of $40 mil­lion, they were mar­ried within a year.

Thank­ful as he was for her money, Thierry ap­peared em­bar­rassed by ev­ery­thing else about Christina. He dis­liked even be­ing pho­tographed with her and, be­hind the scenes, re­mained close to his long-time girl­friend, Gaby Land­hage, a blonde model from Stock­holm. When­ever he could slip the mar­i­tal leash, Thierry would be off to Paris or Monte Carlo, where he’d tell his louche friends that he had the worst of ev­ery­thing – a wife who was both unattrac­tive and sex­u­ally in­sa­tiable.

In Jan­uary 1985, Athina was born. Her mother was ec­static. Not only did she have the child she so wanted, but the en­dan­gered Onas­sis line would con­tinue through an­other gen­er­a­tion. Christina called her daugh­ter Koukla – Greek for “baby doll” – and her in­dul­gence knew no lim­its. She dressed the lit­tle girl in fine de­signer clothes from Paris and when Athina showed an in­ter­est in the nurs­ery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep, Christina bought her a flock of sheep.

Thierry had rea­son to be pleased, too. Hav­ing given his wife the baby she craved, he felt able to spend less time at home and more with Gaby. Un­be­known to Christina, in the course of her marriage to Thierry, he sired two other chil­dren by his girl­friend.

Within a year of Athina’s birth, Thierry and Christina were ef­fec­tively liv­ing apart and, in 1987, they were di­vorced. It wasn’t what Christina wanted and she tried – touch­ingly, but to no avail – to win her un­faith­ful hus­band back. Aware that he found her ugly, she booked into a Swiss clinic to have the fat sur­gi­cally re­moved from her thighs and midriff. To­gether with the con­stant an­tide­pres­sants that she was tak­ing, the var­i­ous treat­ments be­came a slow, re­morse­less drain on her health. The rec­on­cil­i­a­tion plan didn’t work out. Thierry stayed away and, in Novem­ber 1988, Christina, aged 37, was found dead in the bath­tub of her suite at a coun­try club near Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina. The cause of death was given as a pul­monary oedema, a con­di­tion that can cause the lungs to sud­denly fill with fluid. Among Christina’s friends, a dif­fer­ent di­ag­no­sis was pre­ferred. Thierry, they said, had bro­ken her heart.

Thierry is one of the prime vil­lains.

Now tagged The Rich­est

Lit­tle Girl in the World, Athina was raised un­der con­di­tions of ex­tra­or­di­nary se­cu­rity. From the fam­ily home in Switzer­land, where Thierry quickly in­stalled Gaby, Athina was fer­ried to school in a con­voy of blacked­out, bul­let­proof lim­ou­sines, and when she hol­i­dayed on a Mediter­ranean is­land, armed guards pa­trolled the clifftops.

Horse-mad from an early age, Athina turned down the chance of at­tend­ing univer­sity to train for an eques­trian ca­reer with the renowned Brazil­ian showjumper Nel­son Pas­soa at his rid­ing school in Bel­gium.

Within a few days, Nel­son had in­tro­duced her to an­other of his pro­tégés.

The tall, dark-haired son of an in­sur­ance ex­ec­u­tive, Doda al­ready had a rep­u­ta­tion as a ladies’ man. When he met Athina, he was en­tan­gled with Ci­bele Dorsa, a Brazil­ian ac­tress, model and for­mer Play­boy cen­tre­fold, with whom he had a young daugh­ter.

Out­raged by his de­ser­tion, Ci­bele told a Brazil­ian news­pa­per, “We were happy to­gether un­til he met her. Our only prob­lem was money and Doda is use­less with money. What he earns, he spends. He is a charis­matic, per­sua­sive man.”

She later com­mit­ted sui­cide.

By con­trast, Doda was Athina’s first love and in true Onas­sis fash­ion, she fell for him des­per­ately and in­cau­tiously. With her 18th birth­day ap­proach­ing – and with it the right to claim her in­her­i­tance – she brushed aside her fa­ther’s ob­jec­tions and moved with Doda to live in his home city of Sao Paulo, where she bought an $8.5 mil­lion du­plex in an exclusive neigh­bour­hood. Her fa­ther was not in­vited to the wedding.

Like Athina, Doda had left school as soon as pos­si­ble to pur­sue his horserid­ing ca­reer. His good looks and early prow­ess in the sad­dle brought him fame and spon­sor­ship in Brazil, but he yearned for a big­ger stage and when the chance came to work un­der Pas­soa, he seized it.

For a while, he and Athina seemed happy – even nor­mal – avoid­ing the raz­zle-daz­zle of Sao Paulo’s so­cial scene and spend­ing most of their spare time at a farm they bought north of the city.

In the years af­ter their wedding, Athina seemed strangely anx­ious to ditch as many of her Onas­sis as­so­ci­a­tions as pos­si­ble. In quick suc­ces­sion, she sold her mother’s jew­els, the fam­ily’s fab­u­lous ski lodge in St Moritz, and the Aegean is­land of Sko­r­pios, which Aris­to­tle had con­sid­ered his pri­vate king­dom.

“These places are all em­blem­atic of the Onas­sis name. Many peo­ple in Greece won­dered why she was do­ing this,” says Alexis Mantheakis.

“It wasn’t as though she needed the money.”

Many fin­gers pointed at Doda. It was claimed that he re­sented the in­flu­ence of the Onas­sis set, which he felt looked down on him as a gold-dig­ger. There were also se­ri­ous ten­sions be­tween Athina and the pow­er­ful Onas­sis Foun­da­tion, which ac­cuses her of breach­ing the con­di­tions of Aris­to­tle’s will by fail­ing to spend suf­fi­cient time in Greece.

“She has no con­nec­tion with our cul­ture, our re­li­gion, our lan­guage, or our shared ex­pe­ri­ences,” com­plained for­mer Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent Ste­lio Pa­padim­itriou. “And she’s never worked a day in her life.”

Many Greeks, in­clud­ing Alexis, blame Doda for Athina’s poor re­la­tions with her an­ces­tral home. “He isn’t go­ing to bring her closer. Why should he? He has no con­nec­tion with us.”

Last year, how­ever, Athina made a con­cil­ia­tory ges­ture by ask­ing to rep­re­sent Greece at the Brazil­ian Olympics. The of­fer was ac­cepted, but by then ru­mours were al­ready cir­cu­lat­ing that her marriage was in trou­ble. Doda was said to have be­come close to Pi­lar Lu­cre­cia Cordón, a top Span­ish rider. Pi­lar, 43, de­nied the claims, but soon af­ter­wards, when she came face-to­face with Athina at a showjump­ing event on the French Riviera, the two women point­edly ig­nored each other.

At Athina’s next horserid­ing event, which was also in France, she was no longer wear­ing a wedding ring, and, ac­cord­ing to a Greek news­pa­per re­port, looked “un­happy and ex­hausted”.

Now es­tranged from her hus­band, her fa­ther and the guardians of her grand­fa­ther’s legacy, Athina cuts a for­lorn fig­ure. She may not be­lieve in the fam­ily curse, but like al­most ev­ery other Onas­sis, has had to learn the hard way that riches are no guar­an­tee of love or hap­pi­ness.

It wasn’t as though she needed the money.

Athina’s grand­fa­ther, Aris­to­tle, with wife Jackie.

TOP: Athina and mother Christina share a loving mo­ment in the 1980s. ABOVE: Athina with her way­ward hus­band, Doda.

ABOVE FROM LEFT: Ari in the 1950s with the yacht he named af­ter his daugh­ter. Christina aged three. Ari and Jackie cruis­ing the Nile.

Christina on her hon­ey­moon with Thierry Rous­sel.

Athina at an eques­trian event.

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