Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Self-Inflicted Wound

Today's news reported the death of Huguette Clark at age 104. She was the daughter of William A. Clark, a U.S. Senator and copper magnate from Montana whose fortune was rivaled only by that of John D. Rockefeller. She lived as a recluse for 75 years in a luxurious apartment in Manhattan, but apparently spent the last 23 years in hospitals for unknown ailments. Her only relatives, nieces, nephews and cousins, were denied access to her as were all but her trusted accountant and lawyer, both of whom are now under scrutiny for perhaps mishandling her vast funds. At the time of her death, she was worth an estimated $500,000,000. She gave sparingly to charity, and had no friends. Even her lawyer and accountant knew her only as a voice behind a closed door, like the Wizard of Oz.

Huguette Clark spent her early years in Paris and New York and spoke English with a French accent. She took dance lessons from Isadora Duncan in her teens and was a fixture on the society flapper scene of the 1920's. She married in 1928 but divorced two years later, never married again and had no children. She owned multi-million dollar estates in California and Connecticut, but confined herself to her sumptuous quarters on 5th Avenue with her priceless collection of French dolls.

The normal expectation is that wealth will buy freedom but Ms. Clark seems to have kept herself a prisoner, which intrigues me. The world is vast and wondrous. I cannot imagine having the means to see it all, and not doing so. I never dreamed I would find anything to respect about Paris Hilton, but she undeniably makes use of her family's wealth. Yet even beyond the waste of bottomless resources which bestowed an enormous capacity to enjoy life and do good, Ms. Clark's story seems like a life unlived. We have all heard that money can't buy happiness, but I wish she had at least tried. How very sad to die, and be missed by no one.


secret agent woman said...

That really is rather pathetic. No life of her own, no friends, and no desire, apparently, to help others.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


And the doll thing. Does this not sound like a case of arrested development?

Grandma's scrapbook said...


nick said...

Yes, how very sad that she had the resources to do anything she wanted but just hid herself away like a pauper. I think usually if people retreat from the world like that it's because of some huge disappointment or betrayal that leads them to chronically mistrust other people. Well, that's my theory anyway.

So how come her lawyer and accountant only knew her as a voice? Were they not allowed to see her in the flesh? Did they only talk to her on the phone, or through her staff?

Cadan Henry said...

It would seem she just felt very alone. Human connections looked difficult even painful for her. And her money allowed even more eccentricity. Seldom does anyone tell a very powerful person they made need help.

Anonymous said...

An interesting but sad story. When things like this happen, I often ask why no one was able to truly help her?

the walking man said...

I am sure there is a diagnosis for this...maybe she simply enjoyed her own company over others after having been used by some in her youth. Whatever...may she now rest comfortably among her ancestors.

Howard Hughes ring a bell?

Barb said...

Not only unlived but also unloved. How sad. I'm sure there are eccentrics in every station of life, but I guess for the ones without millions of dollars we label them something different.

mischief said...

Fascinating. I wonder if she was ever seen by a doctor. Sounds like she had a pretty serious mental illness. I'd love to know what her diagnosis would have been.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you.


She didn't live like a pauper but in great luxury except for sharing it with no one.

Apparently, her accountant and lawyer never met with her face to face, nor did her servants. All others were denied admittance to her home.


It's certainly true that the very wealthy are more insulated from criticism, even the constructive kind, than the rest of us.


Because nobody was allowed into her life. It's hard to imagine her thought processes because they were quite out of the ordinary.


Howard Hughes was terribly fearful of germs. Perhaps that was Ms. Clark's problem, too.


Yes, without her millions, she might have been a bag lady pushing a shopping cart.


I'd like to know, too. She spent her last 23 years in the hospital but by all accounts, was in pretty good health to the end, which is confusing to say the least. Perhaps it was a mental hospital. We'll probably never know. It just seems like such a waste of her precious time on earth.

nick said...

My idea of chronic disappointment may be close to the mark. I've just read her obituary in the London Independent. It says her father died of pneumonia when she was 19, her beloved elder sister Andree died of meningitis when she was 13, and by the mid 30s most of her half-siblings from her father's first marriage were also dead. At the age of 24 her marriage was dissolved because of non-consummation.

That's an awful lot of grief and loss to cope with.

TechnoBabe said...

Sure makes me appreciate my little life. I have never ached for money or wanted a lot of it in my life. I have been around many who have so much and still are not happy. I at least am happy. For me, I think of people with an astounding amount of money and do not understand their keeping so much and not dishing it out to hospitals or schools at least. I have known some people who have told me that they worked to get theirs, so others can too, and they are not interested in sharing any of what they have. Sad.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I didn't know all that. Her life sounds like a very sad one. I guess in some cases, the heart just closes rather than risk being hurt any more.


I have always believed that we come into each lifetime with certain lessons to learn, and attract the circumstances which will allow that learning. For some people, perhaps, wealth is their lesson: Will they be generous and advance their souls, or will they hoard it? Since you are already an unusually giving person, you have no need of this particular lesson.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

The money is completely without value, if all she used it for was to seclude herself from life. It means nothing at all because it brought her nothing, no breath or taste of life.

I cannot imagine it... no personal touch or interaction, no hugs or hand holding, no experience of the vast polar opposites of love and hate, joy and sorrow, exhilaration and complacency; these things that give us some scale to measure the quality of our existence by.

It is unimaginable to me, and very, very sad.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Donna B said...

Very sad in deed...I cannot imagine...but it reminds me of Howard Hughes. She must have had one of those phobias of germs and going outside...

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I was really struck by your line, "these things that give us some scale to measure the quality of our existence by." LOVE it!


That is certainly one possibility. I wonder where the line is, exactly, between eccentric and full-bore crazy.

Tara Rinaldi said...

I am fantasizing that one day volumes of her writing will become known, and in those writings she will reveal a life rich with meaning and a love of solitude. That's my silver lining to this seemingly sad tale.

Maybe she was in the hospital so much because she yearned for the company of others, who knows?

She certainly experienced a lot of loss early on; it would make anyone think twice about becoming intimate with another.

Thanks for a fascinating post!

Jo said...

What a fascinating story. This has all the makings of a movie. I had heard of this woman before, but very little was known about her.

She was probably told at an early age that people would only love her for her money, so she withdrew from folks. The dolls probably replaced the lack of people in her life -- a surrogate family, that filled the loneliness, and they didn't ask anything of her. And of course they would be French, because France is where she spent her formative years.

What an interesting story!

(I have a cousin named Huguette. I have always thought that's a pretty name.)

PeterAtLarge said...

My own wild guess is that she was trying to protect herself from death. Seems she saw many of those closest to her die at a young age. By hiding herself away, was she perhaps hiding from their fate? The long hospital stay suggests the same kind of thing. Although.. it does seem that hospital is the last place to go to avoid death these days!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I do hope you are right, and I will be first in line at the bookstore the day it comes out.


Your theory about the dolls as surrogate loved ones is sad and possibly true. She does sound like the classic "poor little rich girl." Everyone wants money, yet for so many people it brings only pain.


Yes, hospitals seem to hasten death as often as they defy it. It's white-coated Russian roulette, and it makes me nervous. I think the lady was hiding from life in the mistaken belief that doing so could safeguard her from death.

Jocelyn said...

I have to imagine she was crippled in life due to mental illness of some sort; the shame is that, even if she, herself, couldn't use her money for something constructive, she didn't have the personal wherewithal to move her money towwards people and organizations who could have applied it transformatively. Money is power, and to know that so much potential power for good sat unused is heartbreaking.

Maria said...

Maybe she WAS missed. Let's imagine that she had a secret lover, perhaps a man who came to read poetry to her or make drawings of her. Maybe in ten years, after his death, those paintings will be found and we all can talk about their love affair. The rich girl and the proud son of a dishwasher who drew all those exquisite naked drawings of her....

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Money is energy, no more and no less, which gives power. When the world's resources are in such short supply, it's mind boggling to waste any, so I do assume that in some way, this woman was tragically wounded.


Have I told you lately that I love the way your mind works? You are a born storyteller, and your Da would be so proud. (In fact, I'm sure he IS proud.)

Moobs said...

If she was happy, then there is nothing to be sad about. There is a romance in s restlessness but often little comfort in it.

Muhammad Israr said...

if she was enjoying her life then there is no need for us to be sad for her... she spent her life in whatever way she wanted it and perhaps she was happy in that :)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


True words, that there is little comfort in restlessness despite the romance.


Perhaps she was. It's often difficult to understand another's view when it differs vastly from our own, or from the norm. Thank you for your visit!

BroLo said...

I imagine that the super-rich must be suspicious of every friendship, lest someone befriend them merely to take advantage of them. Who knows how many people who she thought were her friends turned out to be spongers? At least the poor do not have this problem.

Anonymous said...

So, does this mean we should be happy to be poor? I've always believd wealth was wasted on the wealthy rather than me.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


True, but on balance, the ones they have are far worse.


Of course you do.