Facts about Leona Helmsley
Leona Helmsley Biography
Known as “the Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley was the wealthy wife and then widow of New York real estate tycoon Harry Helmsley (1909-1997).
Leona Helmsley for many years made the annual Forbes list of the richest Americans. Her real estate firms owned posh hotels and prime real estate in New York City, even including the lease on the Empire State Building. But her imperious manner, and rumored mistreatment of employees, earned her that tabloid title of “the Queen of Mean.” Helmsley’s apparent lack of contrition was summed up in a quote attributed to her by a former housekeeper: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”
That imperious attitude got Leona Helmsley in trouble with the law more than once. She made national news in 1989 when she was convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion. Originally sentenced to 16 years in prison, she eventually served 19 months from 1992-94. Helmsley was also sued in 2002 by Charles Bell, a former employee who claimed she fired him because he was homosexual. The jury originally awarded Bell $11.7 million, but a judge reduced the award in March 2003 to $554,000.
Harry Helmsley died in 1997, leaving all of his $5 billion fortune to her. Leona Helmsley made more news after her own death, when her lawyer announced that her will included a $12 million trust fund for her beloved white Maltese dog, Trouble. A judge reduced that award to $2 million, and Trouble did indeed live well until his death in December of 2010.
Leona Helmsley was married four times: To attorney Leo Panzirer (from 1938 until their divorce in 1952), to Joseph Lubin (twice, both marriages ending in divorce) and then to Harry Helmsley from 1972 until his death in 1997. She had one child with Leo Panzirer, a son named Jay (born 1940), and no children with Lubin or Helmsley… A 1990 TV movie, Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean starred Suzanne Pleshette as Helmsley… Leona Helmsley had a long-running public feud with New York real estate tycoon Donald Trump. Trump had the last laugh, not only outliving Helmsley but being elected president of the United States in 2016.