Ex-wife of Donald Trump and businesswoman Ivana Trump dies at age 73.
She helped him build his real estate empire, but she was better known as half of the most famous power couple of the 1980s.
Ivana Trump died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was a beautiful Czech-American businesswoman whose marriage to Donald J. Trump in the 1980s made them one of the most famous New York power couples of the time. She turned 73.
In a post on Truth Social, the conservative social media site he started, Mr. Trump said that she had died.
Two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the situation said that the New York City police were looking into whether or not Ms. Trump fell down the stairs at her townhouse on the Upper East Side. One of the officials said that there were no signs of a break-in and that the death seemed to have been an accident. A spokeswoman for the city’s office of the chief medical examiner said that the death would be looked into.
During their marriage, Ms. Trump got almost as much attention from the media as her husband. Together, they helped make the 1980s known as a time of gaudy excess among the rich. Mr. Trump used this image to help him become a huge TV personality before he ran for president in 2016.
Ms. Trump changed her husband’s name to “the Donald,” which became a common name in the New York tabloids, where she was a regular and loud presence. She was just as ambitious as her husband, and she liked to brag that “in fifty years, we’ll be the Rockefellers.”
Whereas her husband was often rude and brash, Ms. Trump came across to the wealthy elite of the city as charming and sophisticated. This made it possible for Mr. Trump to get into high-class social circles.
She was more than just a socialite. Even though Mr. Trump often bragged about how good he was at business, Ms. Trump was a key part of building his real estate empire soon after they got married in 1977.
She was often called “detail-oriented” and “workaholic,” and she worked with her husband on some of his first big projects, like building Trump Tower in New York City and the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
She was the vice president of interior design for his company, the Trump Organization, and ran the Plaza Hotel, which was one of his most valuable properties, all while raising their three kids.
In 1990, the couple got a divorce, which was partly caused by Mr. Trump’s affair with Marla Maples, whom he later married. The story was all over the tabloids for weeks. In a deposition, Ms. Trump said that he had raped her, but she later said that she had not meant the word literally.
The divorce made Ms. Trump something of a hero for jilted wives everywhere. She even had a cameo in the 1996 movie “The First Wives Club,” where she told a group of angry divorced women, “Don’t get mad, get everything!”
She was also very good at business, which helped her a lot. She made a line of clothes, jewelry, and beauty products, which she sold on the Home Shopping Network and QVC, among other places. She invested in real estate in the U.S. and Europe and wrote several books, including “The Best Is Yet to Come: Coping with Divorce and Enjoying Life Again” (1995) and, most recently, “Raising Trump” (2017), a memoir about her marriage to Mr. Trump.
In a family statement posted on Facebook, her children Eric, Donald Jr., and Ivanka Trump said, “Our mother was an amazing woman: a force in business, a world-class athlete, a radiant beauty, and a caring mother and friend.”
Mr. Trump wrote about her on his social media site, “She was a wonderful, beautiful, and amazing woman who lived a great and inspiring life.” He also said, “May Ivana rest in peace!”
Ivana Marie Zelnickova was born in Gottwaldov, Czechoslovakia, which is now called Zlin and is in the Czech Republic, on February 20, 1949. Milos Zelncek, her father, was an electrical engineer, and Marie (Francova) Zelnickova, her mother, worked as a telephone operator.
As a child, Ivana was very good at sports. She was especially good at skiing and competed with the Czech junior national team. This gave her a chance to see at least some of the world outside of her small town. (Mr. Trump liked to say that she was a substitute on the Czech ski team for the Olympics, but there is no evidence that this was true.)
In 1972, she got her master’s degree in physical education from Charles University in Prague.
Alfred Winklmayr was an Austrian ski instructor. They were married for a short time, and she later called it a “Cold War marriage” because it let her get an Austrian passport and move to Canada. She said they never lived together and that they were no longer married in 1973.
In Canada, she was a ski instructor and a model for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. She met Mr. Trump when she was working at a reception in New York. At 29, he was just starting to plan his rise to the top of Manhattan’s real estate world.
Less than a year later, they got married in a ceremony that was led by the author and Protestant minister Norman Vincent Peale.
One of Mr. Trump’s first big projects was fixing up the old Commodore Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, which was right next to Grand Central Terminal. Ms. Trump, who was getting her license to be an interior designer at the time, joined him. At first, she was in charge of plumbers and electricians. Then, as she told Vanity Fair in 1988, she judged “every pillow, every table and chair, and every brass column.”
The hotel reopened in 1980 as the Grand Hyatt. It was a flashy sign of a new decade of fast growth and material excess, which would come to be associated with the Trump name.
Ivana quickly became an equal partner in Mr. Trump’s business, even if she worked behind the scenes. She put an emphasis on luxury. It was her idea to make Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue out of pink marble and shiny brass. Even though she said her husband was in charge, it was clear that she was one of his closest friends. For example, she helped him decide to go into the casino business in Atlantic City by giving him advice.
She had even more power over the Trump family as it grew. In the beginning of “Raising Trump,” she bragged about Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric and didn’t hold back when talking about who did what to raise them.
“I think it’s my fault that I raised such great kids,” she wrote. “Before we got divorced, I was in charge of raising our kids, and afterward, I was the only one who could see them. I decided what they would learn, do, where they would go, who would watch them, and how much money they would get. When they graduated from college, I told my ex-husband, “Here’s the finished product.” “It’s your turn now.”
The couple used their money to get into the New York social scene, but they ended up being seen on TV and in books by people who didn’t live in the Midtown skyscrapers. They were talked about in gossip columns, profiles in People magazine, and even sketches on “Saturday Night Live.”
And as the couple reached the end of the 1980s on top of the world with an estimated $3 billion in wealth, she laughed off rumors that her husband was about to run for the White House.
She told Vanity Fair, “Not in the next 10 years, for sure not.” “There are many things to do. We have put in close to a billion dollars into this town. We can’t just put it in escrow and head to the White House. It would be thrown away right away. It’s too new and too young. But in 10 years, Donald will only be 51 years old, which is still young.
But a year later, as rumors spread about Mr. Trump’s relationship with Ms. Maples, their marriage began to fall apart. People saw Mr. and Mrs. Trump fighting in public, and it was said that Mr. Trump locked her out of her office at the Plaza Hotel.
After almost a year of rumors and legal wrangling, the couple got a divorce in December 1990 because Mr. Trump had been cruel and unkind to her. But a bitter settlement fight broke out when Ms. Trump said he owed her half of his money. She may not have known at the time that he was close to going bankrupt.
Ms. Trump gained a sort of following: Fans held candlelight vigils outside the Plaza and waited for hours to see her leaving home or court. Liz Smith, a well-known gossip columnist, became known as “Ivana’s whisperer” because she filled her articles with dirt on Mr. Trump and helped Ivana Trump’s post-divorce image as a strong woman who was treated unfairly.
The settlement was finalized in 1992, and it was mostly the same as their last prenuptial agreement. She got $14 million, their 45-room mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, an apartment in Trump Plaza on the Upper East Side, and one month a year at their mansion in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. She also got $650,000 a year to help take care of their three kids.
After her divorce, Ms. Trump bought her townhouse on the Upper East Side, just off Fifth Avenue near Central Park. She decorated it in her own showy style.
In “Raising Trump,” she said, “My home is a perfect reflection of my style.” There was a marble staircase that led up to the “white piano room” on the second floor and then to a “leopard sitting room” another flight up.
She started to build her own business empire, this time in the fashion and beauty industries, and, more importantly, she tried to build a separate identity from that of her famous ex-husband.
In 1995, she told a reporter from The New York Times, “You don’t have to write down the second name.” “My name is Ivana,” they say.
As she built her clothing and jewelry business, she hired three secretaries to help her deal with the mountains of fan mail, which she tried to answer herself. She became a regular on daytime talk shows and was always happy to make a cameo appearance on TV or in a movie. Her high pile of blonde hair and Czech accent made her easy to spot.
Even though she told Mr. Trump in “The First Wives Club” to “take everything,” she kept him from getting more embarrassed in public.
She told The Times that her 1995 book, “The Best Is Yet to Come,” was not about getting back at Trump. “This is a book full of tips for women. I added some of my own stories, but the stories of the women make up 90% of the book. Bringing Donald in was the last thing I wanted to do.”
She got married twice more. In 1995, she got married to an Italian businessman named Riccardo Mazzucchelli. Two years later, they got a divorce. In 2008, she got married to the Italian actor Rossano Rubicondi at Mar-a-Lago, and Mr. Trump was there. The two people were married for less than a year.
Ms. Trump is survived by her three children and ten grandchildren.
Even though she didn’t talk much about her ex-presidency, husband’s Ivana Trump sometimes irritated Melania Trump. Melania Trump married Mr. Trump 15 years after he and Ivana Trump got divorced, with his second wife, Marla Maples, in the middle.
During an appearance on “Good Morning America” in 2017, Ms. Trump said, “I’m basically the first Trump wife.” She then added, “I’m the first lady, OK?” This seemed to be a mistake, and Melania Trump’s spokesperson was quick to correct her.