She was as famous for her hotel holdings as she was for the razor sharp comments that allegedly came out of her mouth, but no matter how the press painted Leona Helmsley, one thing she did not do was go quietly into the night.
The New York hotelier died of heart failure over the weekend at 87 years of age, leaving behind a legacy of accusations, jail time and discrimination charges that dubbed the billionairess the “queen of mean.”
Helmsley added the gay community to the list of people she maligned in 2002 when she was ordered to pay $11 million (£5.5m) in damages to former employee Charles Bell, who claimed Helmsley fired him because he was gay.
A judge later reduced the fine to just over a half a million dollars, but Helmsley never outwardly denied the allegations, according to the Associated Press.
Alongside her husband Harry, Helmsley ran a more than $5 billion (£2.5bn) empire that at one time included real estate gold mine the Empire State Building.
Together, the two also owned the Park Lane Hotel and the Harley Hotel chain.
But while Helmsley was regarded as a shrewd business woman, long before business women like Martha Stewart took a beating from the press, Helmsley was painted as a woman you didn’t want to cross.
Perhaps Helmsley’s most infamous quote, one she denied to the press on numerous occasions, was leaked by a former housekeeper, who claims she once heard Helmsley say: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”
Ironically, according to United Press International, Helmsley was convicted of federal tax evasion in 1989 and served 18 months in prison. Then US Attorney Rudy Giuliani helped to put her away.
Helmsley’s volatile relationship with competing billionaire tycoon Donald Trump was also well documented in the press.
According to a 2001 article in Forbes Magazine, “No two billionaires loathe each other on a personal level more than The Donald and The Queen of Mean.”
Ross von Metzke © 2007 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved