could barely walk, Papadimitriou recalls, but when the door opened
and he saw the crowd outside, "He shrugged his shoulders, letting
the coat fall to the ground, pulled himself up and walked to the
car like a palikari (warrior). In the car he slumped down and looked
very feeble, but when he pulled up to the plane, he took off the
coat again and walked up the stairs alone, refusing to be helped."
Of all Onassis' innumerable possessions-jewels and priceless objects
d'art-the only one that he chose to take with him on his last journey,
toward death, was a small red cashmere Hermes blanket that he had
been given a month earlier, for his birthday. It was a gift not
from his wife, Jackie, but from the woman he had loved more deeply
and for more years than any other in his life: Maria Callas.
When Onassis and his wife and daughter reached Paris, he insisted
on going to his apartment at 88, Avenue Foch, saying he had work
to do, and that he'd enter the hospital tomorrow. He rode in a separate
limousine from Jackie and Christina, arriving 30 minutes before
Inside the apartment, from his bed, Onassis made a phone call to
a Paris number he didn't have to look up. The phone rang at 36,
Avenue Georges Mandel-only a few blocks away. It was the home of
Maria Callas, who had been waiting for his call. The phone was answered
by her butler, Ferruccio Mezzadri. "They talked for a while in Greek,"
Ferruccio told me, "and after she hung up she told us the Signore
was going to the American Hospital. She was very upset."
Maria later told friends that she had begged to see Onassis right
away, but he told her that "E Hira" (the Widow) was with him. But
he knew that Jackie was eager to leave him behind as soon as she
could-a complaint that Maria had heard before. As soon as his wife
headed back to New York, Aristo promised, he would try to find a
way to get her into the hospital. It wouldn't be easy to evade the
press and his sisters, anxious to avoid any scandal, but they had
to try. He needed to talk to her, he said. Maria promised him she
would stay in her apartment until he called.
Jackie and Christina arrived, Onassis slept for a while, then he
asked for a capsule of Pyridostigmine, a slow-release anti-cholinergic
agent that would give him a burst of energy through the night so
that he could find the strength to deal with a few last items of
business. He called for his closest aides to be brought into the
bedroom one by one.
next morning Onassis was driven to the American Hospital in Neuilly.
While Jackie and Christina distracted the press at the main entrance,
Onassis entered through a side door with several aides. When one
of them offered a wheelchair, he waived it off, according to one
of his young assistants from New York, Nicholas Papanikolaou. "No,
I'll go in on my own steam," he said, "but it's going to take four
to bring me out."
at 36, Avenue Georges Mandel, Maria Callas sat by the phone and