An enigma in life (and death)

Modern Healthcare - - Outliers -

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.

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