Monday, July 16, 2012

The Woman Who Had Nothing But Millions

When Huguette Clark passed away at the age of 104 in May 2011, she left behind a few things: a bewildered family, an unknown identity, and an estate worth roughly $400 million. She left it all to her family…and she left none of it to her family. It was the final twist in a life full of mystery.

Huguette Clarke as a child
Ms. Huguette Clark, born on June 9, 1906, in Paris, France, was the daughter of United States Senator William Andrews Clark. Senator Clark of Montana, who lived from 1839 to 1925, and served one full term as a Democrat from 1901 to 1907, was known as one of the Copper Kings and was always mired in controversy. He was elected to the senate in 1900, but gave up the seat due to a bribery scandal, involving other legislators, and that scandal spawned the 17th Amendment, which gave the direct election of senators to the people, instead of the legislators that Clark was bribing. He was dubbed one of the Copper Kings because he made his fortune in copper mining, owning mines in Montana and Arizona, as well as owning numerous banks and newspapers, investing in real estate, and other profitable ventures. He was, at the beginning of the 20th century, either the richest or second-richest man in America, possibly behind only John D. Rockefeller himself.

Senator Clark shocked the world by announcing, when he was 64, that he had married in secret three years earlier, and had a daughter, Andrée. Huguette Clark was born two years later and in 1908, the family moved into a massive 121-room house, located at Fifth Avenue and 77th Street. Essentially a New York City mansion, the massive residence was filled with the French painting collection of the senator. Already, the young Ms. Clark lived a secluded, yet wealthy and privileged life. In 1925, Senator Clark died, and Huguette inherited one-fifth of his massive wealth. At a total value of $3.6 billion in today’s money, Huguette’s one-fifth share was equal to $700 million. (When her mother died in 1963, she inherited almost all that fortune too.)

Things began to get weird after that.

The last known photograph of
Huguette Clarke, circa 1930
Huguette became a recluse, so much so that the last known photograph of her was taken in 1930. Very little is known of her during this time. She married briefly but had no children. Her only full sister, Andrée, died at age 16 and also had no children. So everything became hers and she became more withdrawn. Her amassed wealth included a $100 million oceanfront estate in Santa Barbra, CA; a $20 million country house in CT; three apartments in New York, whose total combined value is estimated at nearly $100 million; priceless paintings by such masters as Renoir and Monet, and an equally priceless doll collection.

In 1991, she decided to live in various hospital rooms under numerous fake names, perhaps to end the emptiness she must have felt from nearly a lifetime alone. In 2010, a reporter discovered that her three apartments in New York were empty and she became fodder on the internet and tabloids, as people tried to figure out exactly who she was.

Huguette originally had two wills made out, when she was 19 and 22 respectively, that left everything to her mother. Under New York state law, these first two wills should leave everything to her current relatives making claims now, nearly 50 of them, all somehow related to Senator Clark. On March 7, 2005, she hand-wrote a new will, leaving $5 million to her long-time nurse, and only those relatives of hers that were related to her father from his first marriage. Then, six weeks later, on April 19, 2005, she wrote a new will, leaving her family nothing. In the new will, her nurse now received $34 million. Her attorney and her accountant, who worked on both wills, each received $500,000. Her doctor got $100,000. Finally, a massive amount of money went to a charity that is run by both her attorney and accountant.

So the fight begins over this lost fortune as both sides try to figure out what happened in that six-week span and try to piece together the mysterious puzzle that was the life of Huguette Clark.


  1. Bizzare for sure. More money more problems? Sounds like a song lyric to me.

    1. I think the mass amount of money she inherited may have led to the seclusion. Maybe she was afraid of what people would do to get that money? Sad, but 100% true!