The Princess and the Pincuses

By the new decade, Mr. Pincus was said to be buying her a $7.5 million co-op on the fourth floor of the Pierre. A deal for the apartment closed, but it was back on the market by 2003. “Here is your history of personal expenses,” he wrote her that September, in an unsigned letter filed by the sons in court records. “I find them to be unacceptable for clothes, etc. It seems unreasonable and I think you have a problem, which in turn is a problem for me.”

“Lionel and I never exchanged letters, except love letters,” Princess Firyal says in the affidavit. (She and the sons would not give interviews for this story; their quotes are from court filings.) “We, like many in our circle in New York, chose to live our life in our way and style.”

In 1998 and 2001, Mr. Pincus bought up the duplex. Even though the sons’ suit says he was pushed by his companion, he was still healthy then, a sophisticated executive helming a massive global firm.

The “glitz and spectacle of the Pierre were not to Lionel’s liking,” says 37-year-old Matthew Pincus, who runs a five-year-old music publishing company. “Despite his wealth and success, Lionel always has been a modest and private man. … He often said he was up to his eyeballs in the Pierre and was not happy.”

“He is a very generous man,” the princess says, “as evidenced by the $2-3 million weddings he paid for.”

She would know. In photos of Matt’s nuptials in September 2005, the bride and groom are on a dock at sunset, smiling hugely, with Mr. Pincus’ arm around the groom and the princess’ arm around the bride. Then here they are dancing the hora—raised high on their seats above the circle, really beaming, but holding on.

Dave Eggers was scheduled to be there, giving one of nine readings on everlasting love. “Relationship adviser to bride; gave pivotal advice: if you like him, touch his elbow while walking,” the program said. The princess had a reading, too, the last before the vows: “Early, constant supporter of Matt & Sarah, many flashes of her brilliance appear this weekend.”

Mr. Pincus, who had undergone cancer surgery in November 2003, the month of the Lions and poached pear, signed two letters the day after Matt’s wedding. One told his trustees to give the princess the respect of a spouse, and the other asked his sons to remain close to the princess, and to “help and love each other.”

 

IN EARLY 2006, Mr. Pincus left 733 Park Avenue, his home for decades, for the Pierre. He and the princess spent the rest of the year in a rented room, because the duplex wasn’t ready yet. If you ask one side, he got the kind of loving care that his rich, absent sons, who are both apt to use his first name, wouldn’t provide. Or he was wasting away in a kitchen-less rental, sequestered and jeopardized by a woman who wanted him to go to a fitting with his tailor instead of the emergency MRI appointment that revealed a subdural hematoma.

In November, Matt Pincus and 40-year-old Henry, a filmmaker who’d done work with MTV, came to take their father back to Park Avenue. Guards had been hired. “As a result, we were able to keep Henry and Matthew from completing their plan,” the princess says in the affidavit.

The sons brought a guardianship proceeding. By the end of the year, a judge declared Mr. Pincus to be legally incapacitated, and his sons were named co-guardians (though the files have been sealed). Matt and Henry brought him back to 733 Park in early 2007.

If it was a fight over control, it was also a fight over money. In mid-2006, trustees told the princess that her distributions were going to be nearly 30 percent lower than the year before, when her annual spending was $9.31 million.

The sons’ suit reports that Pierre renovation and furnishing costs were up to $17 million as of autumn 2006: The console table was $129,000; the pair of pottery horses cost $750,000. But that was before Mr. Pincus was declared legally incapacitated.