5 Things You Didn't Know About Doris Duke

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Doris Duke's father died when she was 12 years old. James Buchanan Duke, a tobacco and energy mogul, left his daughter around $100 million, which earned her the title "the richest girl in the world" and made her something of a national celebrity. Duke would spend the rest of her life enjoying a series of high-profile love affairs and dabbling in philanthropy and horticulture. Here are five things you might not have known about the famed heiress:

1. She Really Liked a Man in Uniform

Duke apparently realized that if you're going to fall for a man in uniform, you might as well shoot for the top. That's why she had a high-profile affair with General George S. Patton. The two originally met during Hawaiian vacations; Duke even gave the decorated general some polo ponies as a gift. They later ran across each other in Russia when Duke was traveling as a correspondent for Hearst, and they became lovers. Duke later said that Patton's trademark knee-high boots were "a marvelous turn-on."

2. She Bailed Out Imelda Marcos

doris-dIn 1988, exiled First Lady of the Philippines and shoe enthusiast Imelda Marcos ran afoul of the American justice system when she was arraigned on federal racketeering charges. According to prosecutors, Marcos and eight other defendants were involved in a fraud and embezzlement scheme that centered on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Manhattan real estate transactions.

Although Marcos and her husband were allegedly worth billions at the time of their arrests, the authorities froze most of the couples' assets, which made posting Imelda's $5 million bail a bit tricky. That's where Duke came in. The heiress had visited the Philippines during the Marcos era and become quite chummy with the First Lady, so Duke rushed to put up her old pal's bond. She even floated Marcos cash to cover her legal fees.

While Duke was quite a philanthropist, she wasn't just giving money to the filthy rich Marcos. Duke amended her will to authorize her executors to recover all of the loans to Marcos once things settled down in the Philippines. [Pictured: Imelda Marcos, Doris Duke, and the 35-year-old woman she adopted. We'll get to her in a moment.]

3. The Government Penned Her Prenup

In 1947, Duke married Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, who was legendary in Europe for his sexual prowess. Duke allegedly paid Rubirosa's first wife a million dollars to leave him, and their romance quickly took off.

Apparently the rumors about Rubirosa's skills as a lover were true, but other members of Duke's circle were worried about other rumors surrounding the handsome Italian. There were persistent whispers that Rubirosa had worked as a political assassin for the Dominican government, and many were concerned that the playboy might take a crack at bumping off his wealthy wife.

The U.S. government was allegedly so concerned about Rubirosa making off with Duke's fabulous wealth that it decided to intervene to force the groom to sign a prenuptial agreement. The exact details of the story vary. Some versions have government agents drugging Rubirosa and coercing him into signing the prenup, while others have a sober Rubirosa fainting upon learning just how wealthy Duke was. In either event, Duke was probably glad the government interceded on her behalf; her union with Rubirosa only lasted a year.

4. She Adopted a 35-Year-Old Woman

When Duke was 27 years old, she delivered a premature baby daughter who died just 24 hours after being born. The baby's death profoundly affected Duke, and she even hired psychics to try to help her communicate with her lost child.

These tactics didn't seem to work until Duke was 73. When their mutual belly dancing instructor introduce Duke to 32-year-old Hare Krishna devotee Chandi Heffner in 1985, Duke decided that Heffner was the reincarnation of her lost baby daughter. The two women started out as friends, but Duke began lavishing increasingly more extravagant gifts on Heffner, including a 290-acre horse ranch in Hawaii. In 1989, Duke formalized the odd relationship by legally adopting the 35-year-old Heffner.

However, everything didn't turn out beautifully for the mother and her possibly reincarnated daughter. By 1991, the relationship had soured, and Duke negated the adoption of Heffner. Duke's will specifically instructed that her former adopted daughter should not receive any inheritance:

"I am extremely troubled by the realization that Chandi Heffner may use my 1988 adoption of her (when she was 35 years old) to attempt to benefit financially under the terms of trusts created by my father. After giving the matter prolonged and serious consideration, I am convinced that I should not have adopted Chandi Heffner.

"I have come to the realization that her primary motive was financial gain. I believe that, like me, my father would not have wanted her to have benefitted under the trusts which he created, and similarly, I do not wish her to benefit from my estate."

After suing Duke's estate three times following Duke's 1993 death, however, Heffner received a $65 million settlement.

5. She Took Care of Her Butler, Though

When Duke died in 1993, she left behind a $1.3 billion fortune, but she had no heirs. Instead, she left most of her cash to charity; her will named her butler, Irishman Bernard Lafferty, as the estate's sole executor. Lafferty received $500,000 a year for acting as the estate's executor and a $5 million lump sum bequest from Duke.

Duke leaving so much money to her butler raised a lot of eyebrows, and accusations started to fly that Lafferty and Duke's doctor had conspired to hasten the heiress' death. Other skeptics claimed that Lafferty had coerced a sick and confused old lady into leaving him a giant sum of money. The murmurs got so loud that the Los Angeles District Attorney's office investigated the allegations before ruling there was "no credible evidence" that any of them were true.

However, Lafferty wasn't the world's best executor. He allegedly racked up a seven-figure credit card bill buying luxury items for himself immediately following Duke's death, and he dropped the estate's money on things like building a shooting range and buying a pair of miniature horses. Shortly before his death in 1996, he agreed to give up the executor position in exchange for $500,000 a year for the rest of his life.

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.

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December 4, 2009 - 5:05am
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