Picks and Pans Review: All the Pain That Money Can Buy
No one comes off well in this depressing biography of Christina Onassis. Not the maladroit Wright, author of such previous celebrity chronicles as The Von Bülow Affair, who writes stiffly of lies that stuck to shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (Christina's father) "like a bad haircut" and of Tina Livanos (her heiress mother) seeking a respite "from the toxic doses of glamour."
Not Ari, an often neglectful, sometimes bullying daddy. Not Christina, a pitiful, pill-popping, thunder-thighed pleasure seeker who let herself be cruelly used by high-society parasites. Not her manipulative, fourth and last husband and father of her daughter, Athina, Thierry Roussel.
Certainly not former stepmother Jackie Kennedy, who is portrayed as a creature who would make a swell Medea. "My father's unfortunate obsession," was Christina's most benign characterization. "Jackie was the most mercenary person I've ever met," she noted. "She thinks, talks, and dreams of money, nothing but money....What amazes me is that she survives while everyone around her drops. She's dangerous, she's deadly."
Wright, basing the book on more than 100 interviews, depicts Christina as a girl raised by servants in posh settings, notably Ari's yacht, the Christina. She and her brother. Alexander, had wretched manners. After the Onassis-Livanos marriage began dissolving and Ari took up with opera star Maria Callas, he never rebuked his children for being rude to the diva. One favorite harassment: running a motorboat in noisy circles around the yacht to disturb Callas's naps.
Christina grew up quiet and plain, with somber saucer eyes edged with dark lines and a large nose (the nose and lines were dealt with surgically), trying to figure out where she belonged. She spent her adult life making suicide attempts when things got too depressing and dealing with such blows as her Aunt Eugenie's mysterious death (perhaps the result of a drug overdose, perhaps the result of a beating from husband Stavros Niarchos), her brother's fatal plane crash, her mother's fatal drug overdose and her father's death from myasthenia gravis.
There were four marriages, countless love affairs—one of Wright's sources hints that Christina's lovers included stepbrother John Kennedy Jr.. Jackie's son.
Christina obviously loved not wisely but too much. And she hated rejection. At one time, she repeatedly sent her private jet to buzz the villa of a beau who had ended an affair. To guarantee the continued presence of another ex-lover, she paid him $30,000 a month to stay in communication with her.
Christina died in 1988 at 37. leaving 3-year-old Athina and a half-billion-dollar fortune, playing out what one can hope was the final act of a true Greek tragedy. (Simon and Schuster, $22.95)