Huguette Clark was raised in unimaginable luxury in a mansion full of masterpieces on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. She died alone in one of the hospitals where she had chosen to live since the 1980s, attended by round-the-clock caretakers and surrounded by the exquisite French dolls that had been her truest companions since girlhood.
“Almost certainly the last link to New York’s Gilded Age,” Clark was born in 1906 to William Clark, a fiercely predatory mining tycoon whose holdings were worth some $3 billion in today’s money, said The New York Times. In 1899, he was elected senator from Montana, reportedly by bribing the state’s legislators, who at the time were responsible for choosing senators. Huguette’s mother, the former Anna La Chapelle, had been William’s “teenage ward” until he apparently married her in 1901. She was 28 when Huguette was born; William was 67. Huguette’s only sibling, her sister Andrée, died of meningitis at age 16, leaving Huguette deeply shaken.
The sole heir to her father’s fortune, Clark “developed a distrust of outsiders, including her own family, because, it was said, she thought that they were after her money,” said the London Telegraph. Almost her only friend was her secretary, Suzanne Pierre. From the 1930s onward, she “seldom left her Fifth Avenue home,” a 42-room apartment overlooking Central Park, stuffed with old masters’ paintings and treasures such as a Stradivarius violin. She also owned a castle in New Canaan, Conn., and a California estate.
For reasons that were never fully explained, Clark, who preferred to be addressed as “madam” and conducted most conversations in French, checked herself into Manhattan’s Doctors Hospital under a pseudonym in the late 1980s. She lived there and, later, at Manhattan’s Beth Israel hospital, until her death last week. Her attendants kept her dolls’ dresses neatly ironed until the end.