Bartered Bride

updated 06/16/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/16/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

She was perhaps the first celebrity to utter her wedding vows beneath the clatter of helicopters overhead. But for the President's widow, then 39, the din may have been oddly comforting. The helicopters, and an army of 200 guards deployed around the tiny whitewashed chapel on the island of Skorpios, were arranged for by her 62-year-old groom, Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Socrates Onassis—the first of many gestures he would make to offer her the security she craved. Only four months earlier, Jackie's brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., had been assassinated. Noted Lee Radziwill, after the Oct. 20, 1968, ceremony: "My sister needs a man like Onassis, who can protect her from the curiosity of the world."

The world's curiosity did not cease. "The talk in Paris was that Jackie had married Ari for his money, he'd married her for her prestige," recalls a Paris journalist. But her friend, Countess Isabelle d'Ornano, protests that it was an affair of the heart: "Onassis and Jackie were very different, but I felt she married him because she loved him."

Americans, however, were outraged by what they took to be the First Lady's fecklessness. As newspapers reported on her hedonistic lifestyle, Jackie tumbled off the top of the Gallup Poll's list of most admired women. Free of the bonds of public life, she reveled in Onassian luxury, frantically spending her $30,000 monthly allowance.

Unhappy with his wife's spendthrift ways, Onassis did not cut her much slack. When Jackie asked to plan the meals for one of their cruises, Ari reportedly told an aide, "Why doesn't she just behave herself and do nothing?" Soon it was a marriage in pocketbook only. Jackie spent more time in Manhattan; Ari sought advice about divorce. In 1974, diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a disease of muscle deterioration, he revised his will, excluding Jackie from any significant share in his estate. (His daughter, Christina, would later pay her a $26 million settlement.) Whatever bitterness she felt, on his death in March 1975, Jackie remembered the best.' 'Aristotle Onassis rescued me at a moment when my life was engulfed with shadows," she said. "I will be eternally grateful."

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