Monday, February 8, 2016

The Tragedy of Francesca Hilton, Daughter of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Hilton Founder

Everyone loves a good rags-to-riches tale.  But Francesca Gabor Hilton’s life followed a dramatically different path.  Born to Hollywood star (and Kim Kardashian predecessor), Zsa Zsa Gabor, and founder of the famed Hilton hotel dynasty, Conrad Hilton, Francesca was raised attending celebrity parties, living in mansions, earning blue ribbons in horse-riding competitions, and jet-setting to Paris, Rome, and other fashionable cities.  But her life was not as idyllic as it seemed.
Zsa Zsa Gabor wrote in her autobiography that Francesca was born following a pregnancy that resulted from rape by her husband at the time, Conrad Hilton.  The couple divorced before Francesca was born.  Francesca told the LA Times in 2007 that she spent Christmases and occasional upscale lunches with her father.  But their relationship was never close. When Conrad died in 1979, he left his only daughter a scant $100,000 out of his estate, with most of the wealth earmarked for charity.  Conrad Hilton’s estate, which was worth about $200 million at the time, included massive Hilton Hotel stock interests.

Francesca sued to challenge the will but lost.  At the same time, one of her half-brothers, Barron Hilton, also challenged the estate in probate court and walked away with voting interest and income rights over the majority of Hilton Hotel corporate stock.  Already acting as CEO of the company, he dramatically grew the value and holdings of the Hilton empire and became a Forbes 400-ranked billionaire in the process.   In 2007, Barron Hilton announced that his estate plan, like his father’s, would leave the large majority of his holdings (specifically, 97% of $2.3 billion) to charity when he dies — much to the chagrin of his famous granddaughter, Paris Hilton.
Unlike her well-to-do grand-niece, Francesca stopped enjoying the support of wealthy parents many years ago.  She tried to earn a living from a variety of jobs — including acting, stand-up comedy, and working for her father’s charitable foundation.  She watched her mother go through six more husbands after Conrad Hilton, before finally “settling down” with Prince Frederic von Anhalt in 1986.  While von Anhalt and Zsa Zsa were both coy about their actual ages, well-accepted media reports have placed the couple’s age difference at 25 years, at least.
Their marriage appeared to be one of convenience more so than love.  At least, that’s what this Vanity Fair story from 2007 suggests, even though von Anhalt said he loved Zsa Zsa. Nonetheless, the relationship gets the prize for lasting the longest of Zsa Zsa’s nine marriages.  In fact, going on 29 years, the marriage has outlasted all of Zsa Zsa’s prior eight marriages combined.

In that time, Zsa Zsa’s age finally caught up with her, especially after a 2002 car accident that left her wheelchair-bound with partial paralysis, followed by multiple strokes, surgeries, and other health problems, including losing the ability to speak and the amputation of her leg due to an infection.  The Prince has remained as her husband and full-time caregiver throughout, despite numerous bumps in the road, such as his public claim that he had an affair with Anna Nicole Smith, his bizarre plan to cause Zsa Zsa to become a 94-year old mother (through an egg donor and surrogate mother), and mounting financial difficulties.
Von Anhalt battled to remain as the decision-maker for his wife after Francesca filed legal challenges to him and sought a court-appointed conservator, claiming that he mismanaged Zsa Zsa’s funds, botched her medical care, and refused to allow her to visit her mother.  Von Anhalt denied the charges, refuted the public claims that he imprisoned rather than cared for Zsa Zsa, and eventually settled with Francesca out of court.  In exchange for monthly reporting to Francesca Hilton’s attorney, and weekly visits of one-hour, the legal fight came to an end.  The hard feelings remained, however.

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