Onassis Heiress Turns 18, Inherits Billions

ByABC News via via logo

Jan. 29, 2003 -- Although the shy, elusive and beautiful teenager may be unrecognizable to most people, Athina Roussel is considered by many to be a modern-day Greek princess who is now worth billions.

As the last direct descendant of the late Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, Roussel became one of the world's richest women today, inheriting part of a multibillion-dollar fortune on her 18th birthday.

She has come into an estimated $2.7 billion in properties including an island in the Ionian Sea, companies, shares, artwork and a private jet.

At 21, she will become president of the Athens-based Onassis Foundation and receive another $2 billion.

Onassis, the so-called Golden Greek, burst onto the international scene when he married the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy.

Upon his death, Aristotle left his wife $250,000 and bequeathed $500 million to his only surviving child, Christina Onassis.

When Christina Onassis died from a drug overdose in 1988, Athina, Christina's only child, became the sole heiress to the Onassis empire.

"She is a national treasure in Greece," said Janice Min of Us magazine. "When she goes they call her 'Kukla,' which is 'doll,' which is what her mother called her when she was a child."

One’s Own Island

The prize in the estate is her very own Greek island, Skorpios, where her ancestors rest and where Aristotle lived with Roussel's stepgrandmother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Five years ago, when Roussel was 13, she was interviewed by ABCNEWS' Diane Sawyer. When asked what she would do if she had all of the money in the world she said she wouldn't do anything differently.

"I don't know. I don't think I would do something," Roussel said. "No, I would stay here."

Roussel said she would stay with her father, Thierry Roussel. He has taken care of his daughter since her mother died when Athina was 3.

Before her death, Christina Onassis (who was divorced from Thierry Roussel) showered her baby with luxuries other little girls could only dream about. Athina had an original Christian Dior wardrobe and her own flock of sheep, a reward for being able to recite "Baa Baa Black Sheep."

In 1990, Thierry Roussel married Gaby Landhage and, along with their other three children, they have worked hard to give Athina a "normal" childhood in Switzerland. They have sent to her to public schools, but with bodyguards in bulletproof cars.

"We've been concerned for Athina to have a very careless and warm childhood," said her stepmother.

Until now, many who know the family say Thierry Roussel has been successful in shielding his daughter from the excesses of too much money.

Athina Roussel has maintained a relatively quiet existence so far, shunning the jet-setting lifestyle of her mother and her grandfather. The teenager is more interested in saving whales and racing her horses than she is in lavish parties.

Back in 1998, Athina said she was interested in a lifetime career that included horses. She hopes to compete as an equestrian in the 2004 Olympics.

Her boyfriend, 29-year-old Alvaro "Doda" de Miranda Neto, is a Brazilian show jumper. He is separated from his wife, has a young daughter, and is Athina's senior by more than 10 years. But some say the heiress probably doesn't worry about what other people will say about that.

"She is single-minded," said Min. "She'll probably do whatever she wants, much like her mother did."

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