NEW YORK / Forbes Magazine
The Forbes 400
Third Wives Club
Bruce Upbin, 09.25.10, 02:20 AM EDT
Forbes Magazine dated October 11, 2010
An informal study of billionaire marital habits suggests the era of the age-appropriate marriage is upon us.
It is time to call that man out. You can count on two hands the number of Forbes 400 members who fit that stereotype. Billionaires are fairly monogamous. Fewer than 100 people on the rich list have been married more than once. Fewer than 20 are on a third wife. The elite four-wife club, which offers the best chance to marry someone 30 years younger, has 6 members.
We ran the numbers on three- and four-wifers. The data suggest that billionaires of a certain age, 55 and over, who divorce often tend to remarry women close to their age (see charts below). Ted Turner is the paragon of age-appropriateness. He married a woman his own age all three times. Even Ronald Perelman, whose marriages collapse more often than a Chinese coal mine, is not a May-December guy. More like September-December. Of Perelman's four wives, not one was more than 12 years his junior.
Edgar M. Bronfman Sr. has been married four times and thrice divorced, making for a rich data sample. Bronfman was 25 when he married his first wife, Ann Loeb; she was 21. His second, the beautiful Lady Carolyn Townshend, was 12 years his junior, a noticeable widening of the gap. They lasted only two years. Bronfman then fell hard for the younger ladies. Georgina Webb, whom he married, divorced and remarried, was 22 years his junior. That age range seems to work for him. Fourth wife Jan Aronson is 21 years younger.
Family lawyers who work with rich people hesitate to generalize but, when pressed, will gladly do so. "There may be a trend developing where established billionaires 50 years and older are marrying women of comparable age who have achieved some place in society," says Bill Zabel, who has worked with several billionaires on family and estate issues at Schulte, Roth & Zabel in New York. "I think the opposite is more true with the 35- to 40-year-old hedge fund guys. I've seen a number of them divorce their high school sweethearts after 18 or 20 years of marriage and go for women in their 20s."
The difference, says Zabel, is that older men have had enough experience with younger women whom they were with primarily for--and we're guessing--their sexual attractiveness. "And we know that doesn't last," says the 73-year-old attorney sagely. Lack of foresight doesn't stop people from making mistakes. Judith Siegel-Baum, a family and estates attorney in practice for 30 years in New York, is currently doing a prenup agreement for a 93-year-old gentleman who is getting married to a 49-year-old woman--and he's been in the ICU.
"I've seen it so many times I can't even tell you," says Siegel-Baum. "It works up until the time she is 40 and becomes part of the world that once took hold of her so much. One day they wake up and realize, 'I'm married to an old guy.'"
Finding a mate the right age, in the end, has to be less important than finding an equal in wisdom and wit. One Los Angeles multimillionaire in his 70s has this to say about marrying women half his age: "I'd do it if I could marry two of them, so they would then have someone to talk to."
Banker Bruce Wasserstein had been married for less than a year to his fourth, Angela Chao, 26 years his junior. Their marriage was cut tragically short last year when he died. Chao had finished Harvard in three years, comes from a wealthy shipping family, went to Harvard Business School. Her sister was labor secretary under George W. Bush. Every bit his equal, except in health.