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The Perils of Patricia : It’s Not Easy Being the Ex-Wife of the Richest Man in America

<i> Bill Thomas is co-author of "Lawyers and Thieves" (Simon and Schuster, 1990), a humorous look at the legal profession. </i>

IN SUMMER, the rolling hills outside Charlottesville, Va., take on the deep green hue of new money, a convenient reminder of who owns them. Nature imitates net worth in this part of the country, and historic estates have names that sound like they’re expensive brands of bourbon, such as Ash Lawn, Willow Brook and Tall Oaks. Charlottesville is in Albemarle County, which is reputed to be the home of more millionaires per square mile than any other part of the United States, including media mogul John Kluge, the richest man in America.

Now there’s a new millionaire in the neighborhood--Kluge’s ex-wife. With her nine-year marriage to the man with a net worth of $5.6 billion all but officially over, Patricia Kluge, 41, is reportedly receiving one of the largest divorce settlements in American history. The exact amount has not been disclosed, and some sources put it at a mere $1 million a year. But the more generally reported amount is the annual interest on $1 billion worth of investments and property for life, meted out in $1.6 million-a-week installments.

She also got the 45-room house, Albemarle Farm; John has moved into a separate home on the estate’s 10,000-acre spread. From a distance, Albemarle Farm looks like a neo-Georgian theme park painted against the Blue Ridge Mountains. At one end of the vast expanse of front acreage, workers are busy laying sod and harvesting alfalfa. At the other end, swans are floating peacefully in a mock-English country lake. Below the brick mansion, completed just two years ago, a foursome of off-duty farm hands plays golf. Hedges are trimmed with geometric precision, roads wind around trees in perfect curves, and everywhere new concrete belies the ye-olde aspirations of the overall design.

It is ostentatious even by the standards of this upper-class pocket of tweed 120 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Charlottesville, a quaint university town that has dual devotions to scholarly learning and movie deals, has been called an 18th-Century Malibu. Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange are the Kluges’ nearest neighbors. Muhammad Ali, Martina Navratilova and writer Ann Beattie aren’t far away. Sissy Spacek moved in a few years ago. Steven Soderbergh, director of “sex, lies and videotape,” arrived last year.

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Charlottesville is rustic, rich and rife with rumors, most of which concern Patricia Kluge, the town’s most talked-about resident celebrity since Thomas Jefferson. Everyone wants to know what the future holds for the woman who, at 32, with an already titillating past, married a man 33 years older and six inches shorter than she.

Asked about the divorce at a recent gala AIDS benefit in Washington, Kluge demurred. “I don’t know if it would be appropriate now,” she said, fingering a strand of grape-sized pearls. “I just don’t know if I should,” she added in a voice that indicated her lawyers would be upset if she talked to a reporter about it.

A lot of the whispering these days is about Kluge’s relationship with Virginia’s bachelor governor, L. Douglas Wilder. In 1989, the Kluges contributed $200,000 to Wilder’s campaign and raised $500,000 more from friends. After Wilder took office, he named Patricia, a high school dropout, to the University of Virginia’s board of visitors. In March, a month before her separation became public, she accompanied Wilder to Los Angeles, where they promoted the Virginia Festival of American Film. Since then, stories abound that she and America’s first elected black governor are having a romance. On at least one occasion, Wilder used a state helicopter to visit her in Charlottesville. There are rumors about their trips to Nantucket, the eastern shore of Virginia and other vacation spots, but both claim that their relationship is purely political. “We’re friends, only friends,” says Wilder, who increasingly is being discussed as national-ticket material.

Charlottesville has always been more Patricia Kluge’s town than her husband’s. After all, it was her semi-sordid past that brought the couple here in the first place. In late 1985, just as the Kluges were about to host a Palm Beach bash for Prince Charles and Princess Diana, British gossip columnist Nigel Dempster revealed that Kluge had been a sex-advice columnist and had done full-frontal poses for Knave, a British skin magazine. The Kluges, married for four years at the time, canceled the party and moved to Virginia.

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Her critics, of whom there are many, suggest that she courts Charlottesville’s Hollywood crowd only because she got the cold shoulder from British royalty. She has a different explanation.

“I have a great regard for films,” says the woman who appeared in “The Nine Ages of Nakedness,” an English soft-core flick, 20 years ago. She really cares about “films as art,” she says, cares so much that three years ago, she started the Virginia film festival, which has brought the likes of Nick Nolte, David Brown and John Sayles to her mansion.

The first year, “The Good Mother,” with Diane Keaton, premiered in Charlottesville, and Nolte and other notables, including Norman Mailer, were flown by helicopter to Albemarle Farm for a private party, starring Patricia Kluge. Last year, “Old Gringo” was unveiled, with Gregory Peck in attendance. And in honor of the 50th anniversary of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” James Stewart showed up.

This October, the event, co-sponsored by the University of Virginia, lasted a week, though the stars were a little dimmer. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. introduced one of his father’s films, and Louis Gossett Jr., who had just finished filming “Toy Soldiers” at Albemarle County’s Miller School, joined Bugs Bunny on the speaker’s platform.

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“It’s here,” Kluge says of the festival, “because I’m here.”

Despite her enthusiasm for the festival and other parties and benefits she’s begun attending on the arms of various walkers, many who know Kluge say that it’s been an extremely difficult period for her. Just days before a gala post-separation debut this summer, she plowed her Range Rover into a ditch while trying to avoid running over a small animal. Police charged her with reckless driving, and some of her friends say that the strain of losing her identity as the wife of a rich and powerful man might be taking its toll.

“She’s just Pat Kluge now,” says a Washington socialite. “It will be interesting to see what she does with herself.”

THE LADY OF THE HOUSE is in her office, and, according to a maid, will be “available” in 10 minutes. Eventually, the maid leads the way upstairs, where Kluge, in a boatnecked top and white slacks and looking years younger than she did when the divorce was announced, stands in the doorway. On her desk is a stack of college catalogues that she has to read for a meeting at the university. In a corner is a basket filled with children’s toys and a paper shredder that appears to have recently destroyed a number of documents. On top of a wooden cabinet are pictures of Kluge’s 7-year old son, John Jr., with his father; of her prize-winning team of carriage horses, and of Douglas Wilder.

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Kluge says that she works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day; she talks to her financial advisers, reads university reports and goes through the dozens of party invitations and requests for charitable contributions that she receives every week. She also spends “a major amount of time” overseeing the construction of an immense classical garden.

“It will be absolutely wonderful when it’s finished,” she says in a slow, sexy Middle Eastern accent. The highest point in the garden will be crowned with a statue dedicated to the Native Americans “who used to live here,” she declares. “Or I might do something else,” she adds. “I haven’t decided yet.”

These days, deciding what to do has become a full-time occupation for Kluge, whose life has suddenly become the subject of intense curiosity in England and America. “I have no idea why people are so interested in me,” she says, looking and sounding puzzled. “I’m always myself wherever I am. My soul is Eastern, my character is British, my spirit is American. I was born in Iraq and lived in England, and now I’m here, and this is where I’ll die and be buried.”

Her crypt is indeed on the mansion’s grounds. And by the time she fills it, her wealth may rival her ex-husband’s. But that’s something, she says, that doesn’t concern her. “I won’t become wealthy,” she corrects. “I am wealthy. Money, to me, is just there. I never think of it at all.”

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Even as a child, she knew that someday she’d command a fortune. It wasn’t luck or planning that got her to where she is today, she says; it was destiny.

“You do believe in karma, don’t you?” she asks. “I envisioned all this a long time ago. Yes. Absolutely. I never thought I’d do anything else. I never had any doubt that I was going to be a great lady and do what I wanted to do. Not for a minute. If the revolution in Iraq hadn’t come about, I would probably have stayed there, been married to someone successful, and doing exactly the same things I’m doing now.”

Kluge, who likes to call herself a rebel, says she feels no need to justify herself to anyone. She’s aware of the “bad things” that have been written about her but claims that she never reads them.

“The hardest thing about being wealthy is that you are judged as a heartless, cold, uncaring opportunist,” she says. “That’s because people are frightened of money. They think that anyone who has it is going to buy his way into everything, buy everyone’s soul. It’s unsettling to a lot of people when one does things so well and with great speed.”

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BORN PATRICIA Rose in Baghdad, Iraq, Kluge grew up thinking she already had the best of everything. Even though her British father was merely a translator of legal texts, the family could afford private schools, country clubs and servants. In 1965, after the revolution had ended their good life, Kluge’s parents divorced, and Patricia and her brother, Ernest, went to live with their half-Scottish, half-Iraqi mother in London.

Suddenly she was in a country with supermarkets and movie theaters, where men and women could be in the same room together without breaking the law. “I felt like I had come from the 10th Century,” Kluge says. She remembers the unpleasant side of her new life. Not only was she forced to live in “a tiny London flat as opposed to a grand house with gardens and staff, " but she also had to work. Seeing how quickly forces beyond her control could turn good fortune to bad, she vowed that “whatever happens to me in my life, I will always depend on me.” She enrolled in a secretarial school but stayed less than a day. “I walked into that class and saw the pale, sallow faces, and I thought, ‘I am not like them, nor will I ever be like them,”’ she recalls. “So I walked out and never walked back again.”

She was a receptionist at Heathrow Airport, then a hat-check girl at a Turkish supper club in London. One evening the regular belly dancer was sick, so she filled in. Her performance so impressed Russell Gay, the publisher of Knave, that he offered her a modeling job on the spot. Soon she was showing up in the pages of his magazine, writing an advice column on sex and appearing in a soft-porn movie.

Gay, Kluge says, was the first man who ever told her “how incredibly attractive I was.” In 1969, at the age of 19, she married him. He was 50. It was very exciting, says Kluge, looking back on her modeling career and the five years as Gay’s “child bride.” But, she says, the person she was then no longer exists.

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After her divorce, she moved in with Kenneth Newton, a London society psychiatrist who also was 30 years her senior. The relationship lasted until 1976, when she came to America to look into a movie deal and met the man who would change her life. According to Forbes, John Kluge is currently the richest man in the United States. When he met Patricia, his holdings included a slew of radio and television stations, the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters. He since has sold pieces of his Metromedia network, but he’s still got 70% of Orion Pictures, three steakhouse chains, a cellular telephone franchise and a telephone company.

Kluge came to the United States from Germany when he was 8. He was saved from a butcher’s apprenticeship in Detroit when he won a scholarship to Columbia University. As a student, he amassed his first bankroll--$7,000--by playing poker and selling stationery and shoes, and went on to become a brilliant entrepeneur.

He had been married and divorced twice before he was swept off his feet by Patricia Rose at a New York charity ball in 1976. As the May-December romance blossomed--he was 60, she 27--he spent millions on her care and upkeep. First came expensive jewelry; and then, after a huge wedding in New York in 1981, limos, planes and yachts.

Love seemed to transform the much-feared Kluge into an automatic cash machine for his wife, whose extravagance was making headlines around the world, many of them implying that she was the quintessential gold-digger. Then her X-rated past came to light. The scandal was, Patricia Kluge says, a test of their marriage and of her personal courage. “You have to be secure in yourself to come out of a thing like that well,” she says.

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PERHAPS BECAUSE of her girlhood, Kluge immediately took to Charlottesville, with its antique charm and quiet respect for tradition. Albemarle Farm, of which Kluge proudly states, “I created,” became for her a miniature England where she entertained everyone from King Juan Carlos of Spain to Frank Sinatra.

Within her realm, Kluge literally took over everything; she rearranged the landscape and the lives of all the creatures in it. She built five lakes, an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, and a barn so ornate and spotless that the animals are kept on diets formulated to control their defecation. “It doesn’t even smell like a barn,” a neighbor says. “Why can’t she just let her horses be horses? It’s so unnatural.”

Then there was the proper English game preserve, an 800-acre private firing range where the Kluges and their friends, under the watchful eye of Irish gamekeeper Sir Richard Musgrave, blasted away at imported pheasants and quails. In their haste to keep natural predators from spoiling the fun, Musgrave and his assistants killed hundreds of hawks on the government’s endangered species list. When a mass grave containing the birds and several neighborhood dogs was found in the spring of 1988, Musgrave and his helpers were arrested and put on trial. They were deported and the Kluges, who said they didn’t know “how this horror happened,” paid a $120,000 fine--$1,000 for each dead bird.

To relieve her sadness over the affair, Kluge told a Charlottesville paper, she planned to make more frequent visits to the family’s chapel, a place she often goes to in times of trouble. After Kluge’s marriage to John, religion reportedly came to play a large part in her country lifestyle. John Kluge, whose trips to church are said to be less and less frequent, remains a pragmatic businessman.

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“John’s life is his work,” Kluge says. “I think with giants like him that’s always the case. He’s like a great general who can’t go back to being emperor. He’s got to win that one last medal.”

That may sound like veiled criticism but it’s really high praise. “John will always be my husband,” Kluge says, her eyes appearing to glisten slightly in the afternoon sunlight. “I love him dearly. It’s a shame that this had to happen, but it was just one of those things--two people drifting apart.”

Kluge won’t say what caused their marriage to break up, other than the fact that “John wasn’t here enough.” If the affection between them is still as strong as she suggests, is there any chance of a reconciliation? “I don’t think we would have gone this far,” she replies, sadly stroking her short hair. “This is not a game. But what is important is our friendship. That means far more than living together. I love him very much.”

Not everyone finds the break-up sad, or surprising. “This was a relationship that was doomed from the start,” says a Washington society columnist. “Everyone who knew John at the time he got married saw Patricia as an opportunist.”

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Kluge says that she doesn’t care what people say about her. “John and I don’t live for other people’s opinion,” she explains. “People can think what they want. Only we know what’s important to us.”

The English press has long portrayed Kluge as a social-climbing bimbo who’s been trying to buy an audience with the queen for years. Nigel Dempster, the Daily Mail gossip columnist who broke the news of Kluge’s modeling career, “has been on Patricia’s case for years,” says Jennifer Hirshberg, a former press secretary to Nancy Reagan who occasionally works in the same capacity for Kluge.

“You know, there’s a sickness in England,” Kluge says. “There’s a great envy of Americans there. Americans can create greater wealth in one generation than families there can accumulate in centuries. The British invented the gutter press, and it’s worse than ever. They pick on the fact that I’m a woman and that I’ve become so rich. They absolutely hate it.

“I happen to be a reasonable person who cares about the world, who’s loved by her friends and who seems to do all the right things. So I suppose they feel the need to destroy a success story like that.”

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TO KLUGE, who became an American citizen two years ago, it’s all very upsetting, especially now that she’s trying to establish her identity as a working woman. The announcement of her appointment to the University of Virginia’s board of visitors, a position that governors traditionally have reserved for their big campaign contributors, was greeted with a certain amount of derision in Virginia’s political circles. “I’ll be damned,” a crusty old state legislator reportedly said when he heard the news. “Wilder nominated that porn queen.” Some people tried to block her from the job, declaring her unfit for the post.

“I called Gov. Wilder right after the announcement,” Kluge told a local reporter when some students protested the move. “I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely. You’ll make a great contribution.’ And that was the end of the conversation.”

As for the suspicion that the Kluges’ $200,000 donation to Wilder’s political campaign had something to do with her new job, Kluge is adamant. “Douglas Wilder is his own man,” she says. “I think it’s an awful thing to say that one contributes to a man who will lead the state for the next four years for the reason of an appointment to the university. I certainly don’t need to be appointed to anything to feel great or important.”

She blames her lack of a high school diploma on “family circumstances” and the revolution in Iraq. But she wants to stress that she had “a very sophisticated upbringing, a very cultured one.”

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“Mrs. Kluge has been a willing participant in the meetings, " says Bill Fishback, a university spokesman. “She’s a real team player.”

But at the same time, she can’t help being Patricia Kluge. When she first heard that the board meetings were open to the public, she commented, “How very democratic.” Nevertheless, she regularly arrives with several bodyguards. Once, as her security people waited in the hallway, she briefly left a meeting to visit the ladies’ room. Her bodyguards noticed that she was missing, and according to one account, “all hell broke loose.” The commotion subsided, but not before everyone realized that Patricia Kluge requires special attention.

After nearly a quarter century of close relationships with three much older men, is Kluge ready for life on her own? Right now, she’s preparing for the rigors of being a single mother.

Kluge’s son is coming home from a day of playing with friends. He’s dressed in shorts and a neon-pink baseball hat. His mother begins to fuss over him in a way that makes most little boys uncomfortable. “Say hello, darling,” she tells him. John Jr. only squirms to get away.

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“I want to bond with him. It’s a very important time for us,” Kluge says, observing that her son is showing signs of becoming just like his father. “The other day he came into my bedroom and said, ‘Mummy, I need $100 for Wall Street.’ Can you imagine?”

As it turned out, he wanted the money to buy baseball cards. But, Kluge proudly reports, he’s already thinking of deals. “He’s very amusing when he starts to reason who I should marry,” she says. “I said to him, ‘Darling, we have such adventures to look forward to in life,’ and he said, ‘Yes, Mummy, and a new poppy coming to live with us, too. You’d better look good!’ He’s been my absolute strength through this.”

Patricia Kluge needs time, she says, to consider her options--in love as well as business. She stands in her driveway, gazing out over the vast stretches of green farmland in the valley below. The sun is setting, and the fields in the distance are a brilliant gold. Yes, she admits, she’d like to share this with someone, but it would have to be someone who’s strong, purposeful and brave enough to endure the same painful things she’s been through.

“I don’t have to marry a wealthy man now,” she says. Then again, she recognizes that being one of the richest women in the world does have certain built-in romantic risks. There will be men, perhaps many, who’ll only be interested in getting their hands on her fortune.

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“It will be something to look out for,” she sighs, as she brushes her hair back against the wind.


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