Maria Callas was already considered the greatest female opera singer of all time when she knew Aristotle Onassis. It was 1957 and she was 35 years old.
Although she was married to Gianbattista Meneghini at that time, Onassis began a tight courtship. He organized a party for her which literally left her gasping. The Meneghinis were millionaires, but compared to Onassis, they felt like a poor relatives. He invited forty people to come as his guests to the opera and then one hundred and sixty to a party at the Dorchester.
Later, Maria and her husband were invited at fabulous parties on Onassis’s yacht; she spent long vacations with Onassis and friends, sailing to marvelous places like Portofino, Capri, the Gulf of Corinth and Instabul.
For the first time in her life, Maria was madly in love with a man in love with her. It was too much to take in all at once. She was flooded with so much feeling she felt she couldn’t bear it. Then she would remind herself that despite the blessing of the Patriarch Athenagoras, she was having an affair with a married man, and this would calm her down a bit. Then she appeased her conscience with the knowledge that she and Ari would try to get divorces and marry as soon as possible.
They talked a lot about getting married. When Ari said once more he would marry her, Maria made an announcement to the press. Ari told reporters it was just a childish prank and purely Maria’s fantasy! She was a good little girl again and said nothing.
Thus the years passed, with Maria ever hopeful and Onassis ever more brutal. In 1963, Lee Radziwell, Jackie Kennedy’s sister, who was on board the Christina, left to fly to her sister’s bedside, where she had just given birth to Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who died two days later. When Lee returned to Athens, she told Ari and Maria how desolate and distraught her sister was. Ari immediately offered Mrs. Kennedy the use of the Christina for her convalescence. Maria felt desolate and lonely at the thought of Mrs. Kennedy’s presence on board, and strangely enough, found herself trembling with fear.
He never beat Maria physically – he probably knew that was the one thing he couldn’t get away with – but his treatment of her was almost as brutal. No curse was too vile to hurl at her, no words of abuse too insulting. She was told to shut up because she was only a stupid dame whose nose was too big, with glasses that made her look ugly and legs that were too fat. He was not above saying she was just a cunt with a whistle in her throat who was good only for fucking. And always in front of people, to make her humiliation that much more painful.
Of all the possible times of her life it could have happened, Maria picked the moment when their relationship was at its lowest point to become pregnant. She couldn’t wait to tell Ari about it. She wanted to have a baby more than she ever wanted anything in my life besides him, and the thought of bearing the child of the man she loved filled her with tenderness. But Ari had other ideas.
On October 20, 1968, Maria got the news Aristotle and Jackie Kennedy were going to be married.
But the marriage between Onassis and Jackie was a total disaster.
Ari was becoming disillusioned with Jackie’s lavish buying sprees of jewelry and clothing and he was beginning to realize she was taking him for a fool. He kept calling and sending Maria flowers, but for a long time her pride was too hurt and she refused to talk with him. Finally in 1969 they met at a party and little by little, began to see each other again.
But soon, Onassis became critically ill with incurable myasthenia gravis. In 1975 he died. Maria never recovered from that loss.
On September 16, 1977, at the age of 53, Maria Callas was found dead in her bed. The official story was that she died of a heart attack. But there are those of us who believe Maria when she said, “I’ve played heroines who die for love – and that’s something I can understand.”