One of the most unlikely -and polarizing- weddings in the all-time celebrity pantheon took place 49 years ago, when Greek shipping magnet Aristotle Onassis married former First Lady Jacquelyn Bouvier Kennedy, on his private island; Scorpios, in the Ionian sea.
It was the opposite of a “fairy tale wedding” and it caused shock and dismay among the jet-set on both sides of the Atlantic. Many fans despised the idea of the 39-year-old former “Camelot” belle, marrying the 62-year-old shady Greek shipping magnate.
After all, Onassis had been indicted by the U.S. Government for fraud in the early ’60s, was divorced, and for years had carried on an open affair with married opera diva Maria Callas. In the US, he was considered to be a vulgar, ambitious millionaire who would do anything to establish himself in the upward corridors of power.
Jackie first met Onassis during her 1963 fall vacation, when she was invited to spend time on Onassis’ yacht; the “Christina”, by her younger sister Lee Radziwill, who was herself allegedly intimately involved with Onassis.
After the death of her prematurely born son, Patrick, in the summer of 1963, Jackie had become very depressed and her sister thought a trip half way around the world in Greece, would do her good. Jackie was impressed that her sister was friends with one of the world’s wealthiest men.
Jackie had a great time in the Ionian sea. Walking with Onassis along the water’s edge, it is said that she told him she wished her Greek island vacation would never end, and that she did not like her life as First Lady.
Five years later, Jackie’s life was in shambles. After her husband’s assassination she became severely depressed and after Bobby Kennedy’s killing she became so scared for her life and the lives of her children, that she almost became paranoid. “If they’re killing Kennedys, then my children are targets … I want to get out of this country,” she said. It was rumored that Jackie would never have married Onassis if Bobby was still alive.
Onassis offered Jackie and her children security. The Kennedy clan were very unhappy with this liaison, and continued their campaign against the marriage. In the end however, no one could stop Jackie. On October 20, 1968, she married Onassis in a small, private chapel on Skorpios.
“Jackie and Telis, her nickname for her hugely wealthy new husband, wore crowns of orange blossoms for the Greek Orthodox ceremony. She wore the ivory mini-skirted gown designed for her by Valentino of Rome,” reported the New York Daily News.
Aiding in the ancient ceremony were Jackie’s children, Caroline, 10, and John Jr., 7. They carried the two six-foot-tall candles traditionally held by pages, at a Greek Orthodox wedding.
Onassis’ children from his first marriage, Alexander, 20, and Christina, 18, watched from a corner of the tiny chapel. The four children saw their parents exchange golden rings as the marriage ritual was recited by 31-year-old Father Polykarpos Athanassiou of Athens; who was a close friend of Onassis.
The press was extremely unforgiving of the thirty-nine year old widow’s marriage to the much older billionaire. Jackie’s reputation suffered terribly from her marriage to Onassis, especially in Europe, where Onassis was strongly disliked. He was often condemned in the European press, for details of his personal and business life that the American press never covered.
Whatever the feelings of fans, families and friends, the newlywed couple showed every sign of being in love. Jackie’s cousin; author John H. Davis, noticed significant changes in Jackie during her marriage to Onassis, and remembers that the feelings of loneliness and insecurity which Jackie endured in the years following the assassination of John F Kennedy, had changed during her marriage to Onassis, and she had become happier and more outgoing.