PARIS (UPI) -- The opera world today mourned the death of Maria Callas, the New York-born diva whose tempestuous stage presence was matched only by her real-life passion for shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.
"She had become a truly legendary figures, possessing all the attributes of a great diva," said John Tully, general manager of London's Covent Garden Royal Opera House. "We have lost one of the truly great artists of our time."
The 53-year soprano died from a heart attack Friday at the age of 53 in her luxury Paris apartment. Callas, plagued all her life by weight problems, had been resting in bed after suffering from low blood pressure.
French impresario Michel Glotz, one of the first to reach the apartment, said she collapsed on the bathroom floor and a maid helped her back to bed, "but it was too late."
Opera singers, impresarios and buffs throughout the world morning Miss Callas' death and eulogized her as one of the greatest voices ever to grace a stage.
"Undoubtedly the greatest singing actress of this century," Harold Rosenthal, editor of Opera, the most influential magazine on the art, said today in London.
Many of those who knew her also recalled the heartbreak of her love for Onassis, which flamed even after the Greek magnate married Jacqueline Kennedy in 1968.
The break with Onassis "had a big effect on her. It was a case of her musical life being subdued by her personal life. It was a great tragedy," Rosenthal said.
Callas las appeared in public on Dec. 8, 1973, in a concert at the Paris Opera after eight years off the stage.
A sellout audience cheered wildly and brought her back for 10 curtain calls. But critics said the voice that once brought opera-goers to tears had lost some of its brilliance.
Miss Callas apparently agreed. She never sang in public again.
Born Maria Anna Cecila Sofia Calogeropoulos in New York in 1923, she was the daughter of Greek immigrants who were divorced shortly afterward.
Returning to Greece, she began singing lessons at age 8 and made her first appearance at 14 as Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's opera Cavalleria Rusticana in Athens.
Callas and her mother nearly starved during the World War II Nazi occupation of Greek and Maria earned food by singing opera arias for Axis troops.
In 1949, she married Italian industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini, whom she met in Verona when she fell from the stage and he rushed to her rescue.