Helmsley and her husband Harry, whom she married in 1972, amassed a New York City real estate empire that eventually included the Empire State Building, Tudor City and 230 Park Avenue. She would also supervise the development of the Park Lane Hotel, the New York Helmsley Hotel and the Helmsley Palace Hotel. The family’s holdings also would include the Helmsley Middletowne Hotel and the Helmsley Carlton House.
But never mind all that. It was a former housekeeper who decided Helmsley’s fate during her 1989 trial for tax evasion.
“We don’t pay taxes,” the housekeeper testified her boss had said. “Only the little people pay taxes.”
From then onward, Helmsley would be known as the “Queen of Mean,” an indelible symbol of late 1980’s excess, a sort of real-life Gordon Gekko. She would serve 18 months in prison, being released in 1994.
Harry Helmsley died in 1997, and his widow became chief executive of Helmsley Enterprises. At the time of her death, she owned interests in the Empire State Building, the Lincoln Building, the Park Lane Hotel, the Helmsley Hotel, and other properties in New York and Florida.
Born in Ulster County and raised in Brooklyn, Helmsley was already a successful real estate broker with residential firm Brown Harris Stevens, where she was a senior vice president, when she met Harry. She would eventually contribute tens of millions to various charities, including $5 million to Hurricane Katrina relief and $5 million to help families of firefighters killed on September 11.
Helmsley is survived by her brother Alvin Rosenthal and his wife Susan; four grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have yet to be made.
There will be more on Helmsley’s death in Wednesday’s Observer.