Huguette Clark was buried as privately as she lived.
When the heiress to the $500 million Clark copper mining fortune was interred at a family mausoleum after her May 2011 death, there was no funeral or mass.There was no eulogy or religious ceremony. No family members were present. Her casket was placed in a family tomb next to her sister and parents. A simple bouquet of daisies stood by the door.
“Madame Clark’s passing is a sad event for everyone who loved and respected her over the years,” said a spokesperson for Clark’s lawyer to the Los Angeles Times. “She died as she wanted, with dignity and privacy. We intend to continue to respect her wishes for privacy.”
By the time of her death in New York City at the age of 104, she had lived more than 20 years in seclusion in hospital. Few visitors were allowed. She had few regular contacts.It was a predictable end to what had been a reclusive life that only recently gained public interest.
She was born into wealth in 1906 to Anna LaChappelle and William Andrews Clark, a mine owner and railroad baron whose fortune rivaled that of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller. According to the Times, she grew up in a 121-room Manhattan mansion which included Turkish baths, galleries for an extensive art collection and a railroad to deliver coal. New Yorkers called it “Clark’s Folly.”
She was educated at a private school for girls, took extended vacations in France and savoured a love of French dolls, art and antiques. She would later live in a lavish $100 million California estate so private it was hidden behind walls and was once only accessible by private rail car.
Her father, meanwhile, built an empire. According to MSNBC, he made money in railroads, copper mines, cattle, timber and banks. He also owned land in Nevada that would later become Las Vegas.Clark married William Gower, a bank clerk, in 1928 in a highly publicized wedding that reportedly embarrassed the bride. She called her great wealth a “menace to happiness.” The marriage ended two years later. She never remarried. She never had children.
After the death of her parents and siblings, she became sole heir to an incredibly lucrative estate and she retreated into almost complete seclusion.“Everything stopped for her when her mother died,” said André Baeyens, Clark’s great-half-nephew, to MSNBC.
She hadn’t been to her Connecticut and California properties in over 50 years and reportedly never left her New York City apartment. She would have no public appearances or outings. According to the Los Angeles Times story about her death, she was so private even antique dealers could only bargain with her through a closed door.
According to The Telegraph, Clark, “developed a distrust of outsiders, including her own family, because it was said she thought that they were after her money… She conducted all her conversations in French so that others were unlikely to understand what was said.”
After entering hospital in the 1980s, Clark registered under an assumed name and only hospital staff had direct contact with her.
But it would be her intense secrecy that led to the public attention she hid from. In February 2010, MSNBC released a photo narrative report called, “The Clarks: An American Story of Wealth, Scandal and Mystery.” The report caught incredible public interest and was followed by an extensive web and television investigation on Huguette herself, calling her a mystery living amid unanswered questions.The last year of her life would be spent amid incredible public speculation and curiosity.
Now in the death, the last remaining question is the fate of her fortune. Clark had extended cousins, nieces and nephews but they had not had contact with her in years. Last September, distant relatives accused her New York lawyer William Bock and accountant Irving Kamsler of tightly controlling Clark and deliberately keeping her family at bay. They believed Bock sold one of Clark’s precious antiques, a Renoir painting and made a $1.5 million donation to an Israeli settlement with her money. Kamsler’s integrity and business practices were later questioned after he pled guilty to charges of accessing and distributing child pornography. MSNBC reported New York City officials were investigating and a criminal investigation into the handling of Clark’s finances was launched by a Manhattan district attorney.
Bock denies any wrongdoing. Clark was “a strong-willed individual with firm convictions about how her life should be led and who should be privy to her affairs,” he said, in a court affidavit. He claimed she did not want visitors or for her relatives to even know where she lived.
While a petition to appoint an independent guardian for Clark was denied by a New York judge, the investigation against Bock and Kamsler continues. Details of her will, including potential beneficiaries, were not made public.
The final division of her estate may play out just as she lived. In private. But it will not go without great public interest in the wake of her death. “Her death means the battle begins for her riches,” said Jeff Rossen on NBC’s Today Show. “The mystery that is Huguette Clark stretches beyond the grave.”