Martha “Sunny” von Bülow, 76, the socialite best known for being in a coma for 28 years, after her second husband Claus von Bülow allegedly tried to kill her with an insulin injection at her mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, died today in an upscale Manhattan nursing home.
Sunny had tens of millions from her parents, utilities magnate father George Crawford, and heiress mother, the daughter of International Shoe founder Robert Warmack, and went on to marry two poor, but very social Europeans: Prince Alfred von Auersperg (a tennis pro at the time and a few years her junior) and von Bülow (an aide to oil guy J. Paul Getty.) However, Claus may not have been all he was cracked up to be, as The New York Times put it in her obit today,
He was originally neither a von nor a Bülow. His mother was divorced from his father, Svend Borberg, a playwright and drama critic who was convicted of collaborating with the Nazis by a Danish court after the war. He was sentenced to four years in prison, released after 18 months and died shortly after. Claus grew up with his mother and maternal grandfather, Frits Bülow, a former minister of justice in Denmark and a successful businessman. Claus adopted the name and added “von” as a young adult.
The murder trials (two of them) were completely sensational, with family members split, some siding with Claus, others convinced he murdered Sunny. (In the first trial, Claus was convicted and it was later overturned on appeal, and was found not guilty at the second.) The whole story was like a precursor to the OJ Simspon trial, with Alan Dershowitz defending Claus and Dominick Dunne covering it for Vanity Fair. That article made a huge splash in large part because of the outrageous Helmut Newton pics of Claus, dressed in a leather outfit, shamelessly living the good life with new girlfriend Andrea Reynolds.
Dershowitz wrote a novel about the whole thing, “Reversal of Fortune,” which became a big movie, Oscar winning even, with Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close.
For years Sunny was at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical centre, until 1998, when her family decided the private room, with a guard, at the exclusive section for wealthy people (Harkness Pavillion and then McKeen Pavillion), was too expensive. She was moved to the less expensive, but still chic, Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home on the Upper East Side.
AP: Her doctor testified that the cost of maintaining her was $375,000 the first year, 1981.
No figures were available for the years that followed, but by the early 1990s room charges were up to about $1,500 a day — $547,000 a year — plus $200,000 to $300,000 for round-the-clock private nursing.
We were on her floor a few times in the mid-1990s visiting someone and heard stories about how a hairdresser would come in regularly to style Sunny’s hair. (No comment on whether the person we were visiting may or may not have tried to sneak a peek at Sunny resting.)
According to a piece last year in the NY Daily News, Claus is now living in London, hitting his private club, and writing art reviews.
Hmm, wonder if with the spotlight once again on him whether he’s thinking about how OJ got nailed years later with an exaggerated jail sentence that fit the crime he got out of rather than the one for which he was convicted? In today’s harsh economic climate people are no longer going to be as dazzled by the world of the wealthy as they perhaps were two decades ago. If we were Claus we wouldn’t even jaywalk. (Or whatever they call in in England.)