For her second wedding, Jacqueline Kennedy wore a knee-length, ivory lace Valentino dress and a white ribbon in her hair. She exchanged vows with Aristotle “Ari” Onassis before 40 guests, including her kids, Caroline and John Jr., who held lit candles during the 45-minute Greek Orthodox ceremony. “We are happy,” Jackie told reporters before leaving for her honeymoon aboard Ari’s luxury superyacht, Christina O.
The marriage of President John F. Kennedy’s widow to a foreigner 23 years her senior shocked many Americans. Jackie may have even surprised herself by the speed of her transition from grieving widow to the wife of a tycoon in just five years. “When you look back on your life, you hardly recognize the person you once were. Like a snake shedding skins,” she once said.
Widowed at age 34, Jackie had just begun to feel the horror of the assassination starting to abate when her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy was gunned down in 1968. “She spent four years dealing with the death of her husband and then it all happened again. She feared for her life and feared for her children,” Paul Brandus, author of Jackie: Her Transformation from First Lady to Jackie O, exclusively reveals in the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. “Onassis offered security. He had Skorpios, his own island in Greece, a private army with 75 heavily armed men and he owned an airline. He could give her anything she wanted.”
After they wed, Jackie continued to live primarily in New York, where her children were in school. Caroline and John Jr. enjoyed summers on Skorpios with their new stepfather. “Jackie had a liking for a kind of buccaneer. Her father, Black Jack Bouvier, was kind of a rogue back in his day,” explains William Kuhn, author of Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books. Ari also possessed a cultured side that appealed to Jackie. “He was extraordinarily charming and a good listener,” says Brandus. “He could talk about opera and paintings and spoke several languages.”
It also didn’t hurt that he was terrifically wealthy, as Jackie, for all her breeding, had no real money of her own. “The joke is that Onassis gave Jackie a blank check — and she exceeded it!” says Brandus. Though her new husband gave her a monthly allowance of $30,000, Jackie often surpassed it. She reportedly spent $1.25 million — or about $9 million today — on clothing the first year!
As she had done at the White House, Jackie also enjoyed redecorating — she found some of Ari’s opulent decor uncouth. “She didn’t care for conspicuous consumption. She was all about quiet good taste,” explains Kuhn. Ari, however, set limits. “On Skorpios, she was allowed to decorate the Pink House,” explains Oline Eaton, author of the forthcoming Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: An Alarming Life. “The Christina was his domain. He did not want its decor changed at all.”
As the marriage soured, Ari began seeing his old flame, opera star Maria Callas, in public. Jackie retaliated by being photographed in New York in the company of other men. “Jackie is a little bird that needs its freedom as well as its security and she gets them both from me,” Ari said in response to the gossip. “She can do exactly as she pleases … and I, of course, will do exactly as I please. I never question her and she never questions me.”
But it’s possible that Ari sought revenge. In 1972, Jackie was humiliated when nude photographs of her sunbathing and strolling the beach on Skorpios were published. “It’s been said that he was the one who tipped off the photographers. It’s a pretty awful thing to do to your own wife,” Kuhn says to Closer.
The tragic death of Ari’s only son Alexander in a plane crash a year later added to their misery. The deeply superstitious tycoon irrationally blamed Jackie, whom he reportedly called “The Widow” and “The Witch,” for attracting tragedy. “His health had been declining, and Alexander’s death was a crushing blow,” says Brandus.
If Ari hadn’t died in 1975, it is likely they would have divorced. Jackie received $26 million while Christina Onassis inherited the bulk of her father’s $500 million estate. But it was an ample amount to launch the next chapter of Jackie’s life. In 1975, she was hired as a consulting book editor for $200 a week. Over the next 19 years, Jackie would acquire nearly 100 works of fiction and nonfiction doing a job she loved.
She also found a more equal relationship with Maurice Tempelsman, her companion from 1980 until her death in 1994. “He was a gentleman, wealthy and a reliable partner,” says Brandus. “Though they never married, he made her very happy.”