THE LAST DEAL

Call no man happy until you know the nature
of his death; he is at best but fortunate
.

Solon, from Herodotus, Book 1

On February 6, 1975, Aristotle Socrates Onassis set out on his final journey, on foot.

Stelios Papadimitriou, his private attorney and the director of his shipping empire, had been summoned to the villa in the Athens suburb of Glyfada with the news that the Boss was sinking fast. His myasthenia gravis-a degenerative neuromuscular disease-had been complicated by a case of influenza and an infection of the gall bladder. Foreign doctors and family members were gathering at his bedside and arguing about his medical treatment.

In the two years since his son Alexander died in a plane crash, Onassis had lost the will to live. He was negligent in taking his medications. Six weeks earlier, on Christmas Day 1974, he had given the members of his household staff ten thousand drachmas (about $300) each, an unusually large Christmas gift, which seemed to them his way of saying goodbye.

In the months of December and January, Onassis lost forty pounds. Not even the Anatolian delicacies his sister Artemis prepared could coax him to eat. His daughter, Christina, still believed that the doctors she had summoned from Paris and New York might be able to save her father, but Papadimitriou suspected, as he climbed the front steps to the villa on that overcast February morning, that the news would not be good.

After being received by the Onassis retainer Panayiotis Konidiaris and greeting the shipowner's worried sisters in the parlor, Papadimitriou hurried up the stairs toward the second-floor bedroom. He found Onassis' 24-year-old daughter huddled near the top of the stairs, sobbing. She told him that she couldn't convince her father to go to Paris, to the American Hospital in Neuilly, in the company of the French surgeon Dr. Jean Caroli who wanted to remove his inflamed gall bladder. (The American doctor who flew in with Jackie Kennedy Onassis from New York felt that the rigors of such an operation would kill him.) She begged Papadimitriou to convince her father to go. There was a car and driver waiting outside to take him to the airport, but he wouldn't budge.

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