An enigma in life (and death)
Outliers doesn’t know of many people who like to stay at the hospital, but then we never met Huguette Clark. In fact, not many people did.
The reclusive 104-year-old heiress to a Montana copper fortune who once lived in the largest apartment on New York City’s Fifth Avenue died last week at a Manhattan hospital, after having chosen to spend the past two decades of her life in area hospitals. She left behind a fortune reportedly worth $500 million.
The New York Times and other sources reported that Clark died at Beth Israel Medical Center, where she had resided in recent years. MSNBC, which has conducted an investigation into her life, reported that she lived there, and at other area hospitals, in a guarded private room under various pseudonyms and attended by private nurses despite being in relatively good physical health.
It’s a story shrouded in mystery that began in the Gilded Age. Huguette (pronounced hyoo-GETT) inherited the riches amassed by her father in Montana’s mining industry. William A. Clark was one of America’s wealthiest men and built railroads across the country, founding Las Vegas in the process.
The Washington Post reported that she spent much of her early life in Paris and New York, and spoke English with a French accent; as a teenager studied dancing under Isadora Duncan; and in the 1920s was a socialite and considered one of the most eligible young women in America. But when she died, she had been a recluse for nearly 75 years.
As of last year, Clark still owned a 42-room apartment on Fifth Avenue; a Connecticut castle surrounded by 52 acres; and a Santa Barbara, Calif., mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Beginning in the 1960s, after her mother died, Clark rarely left her Fifth Avenue home. She was rarely seen by building staff, who delivered whatever she needed. She moved into a hospital in the 1980s.
Clark shunned most visitors and left decisions in the hands of her attorney—from bidding at auction on the vintage dolls she collected to settling disputes among her nurses.
It’s a mysterious story, and Outliers isn’t surprised to learn the Manhattan district attorney’s office has been looking into her care and how her finances were handled.
Clark in her last known photo, taken in 1930.