Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Leona Helmsley: 'The Queen of Mean'

Leona Helmsley Dies

Leona Helmsley and her Attorney
Leona Helmsley and her Attorney

On Monday, August 20, 2007, Leona's legal troubles abruptly ended when she suddenly died of heart failure at the age of 87, while at her summer home in Greenwich, Connecticut. At the time of her death, she was considered to be one of America's wealthiest women, worth around $8 billion. She wouldn't have wanted it any other way. What she didn't want was for her reputation as one of America's meanest women to survive her in death, which is precisely what happened.

Upon news of her death, those who were acquainted with Leona immediately summoned up stories of her legendary nasty behavior that earned her the nick-name, "The Queen of Mean." Entertainment Tonight reported that Leona was dubbed "The Wicked Witch of the West" by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and "the meanest woman in history" by Donald Trump. She was further vilified by New York Post columnist Cindy Adams, who recounted how Leona mistreated her "fragile wheelchair-bound mother" by throwing her out of one of her residences for having gay caretakers with her. Former employees remembered her ruthlessness, humiliating them before finally firing some of them for minor transgressions. It seemed as if everyone who had run-in's with Leona over the years had something to say about her callous and cruel behavior.

Leona
Leona "The Queen of Mean" in an ad for the Helmsley Palace Hotel

Even though she was disliked by many, Leona wasn't all bad. Her publicist Howard Rubenstein remembered her as "a great business woman" who was "extremely generous as a philanthropist" having given tens of millions of dollars to charity, Daniel Trotta of Reuters reported. Leona had donated the millions to various organizations, facilities and relief funds, such as the Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief, the New York Presbyterian Hospital, New York University Medical Center, Greenwich Hospital, firefighter's families who gave their lives to protect others after September 11, 2001 and African-American churches that were set afire in the South, Shannon D. Harrington of Bloomberg quoted Rubenstein as saying. Unfortunately, these charitable acts were over-shadowed by numerous media accounts of Leona's contradicting bad behavior, which is what she will be most remembered by.

Leona was buried at the historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the resting place of other famous historical figures such as Washington Irving and Andrew Carnegie. She was to rest alongside her husband, Harry Helmsley, and son, Jay, who preceded her in death. She was buried much as she lived — in grandeur. Prior to her death, Leona had a 1,300 sq, ft. granite, Greek-style mausoleum with stain-glass windows depicting the New York skyline built for her, Gerald McKinstry reported for The Journal News.

Leona is survived by her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, his wife and Leona's four grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren.

 

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