Fourteen years ago almost to the day, Rupert Murdoch married Wendi Deng. Yesterday the couple shocked most in the media world as they confirmed they have filed for divorce.
The media’s most powerful couple married on 25 June, 1999, in a twilight ceremony aboard Murdoch’s garland-bedecked yacht, the Morning Glory, in New York harbor.
Deng, now 44, went on to bear him two children, shake up his wardrobe and join a rarified social circle of Hollywood celebrities and chief executives.
Yet, although there had been periodic rumors of martial difficulties, the announcement of the end of his third marriage caught watchers of the 82-year-old media mogul by surprise.
Wendi Deng had been seen as a key player in the News Corp empire, a woman who was more than a match for the Game of Thrones plotting that dominates the media family.
“I was totally surprised,” said Michael Wolff, Murdoch’s biographer and author of The Man Who Owns The News. “Everyone is trying to figure it out.”
He described Deng as the “most significant figure in the closing chapters of Rupert’s life” and said she had changed his politics, his friends, his relationship with his family and even the way he dresses.
Deng became internationally famous (and was dubbed the Tiger Wife) in July 2011 after leaping to block an attack by protester Jonathan May-Bowles, who threw a pie at her husband during a House of Commons select committee hearing in London into the News International phone-hacking scandal.
Murdoch had met Deng on a business trip to China — and their union was at one point taken to be a sign of the mogul’s determination to break into the country. However, News Corp did not expand far into China, and eventually his marriage too turned sour: In his divorce filing released yesterday, Murdoch’s lawyers said that the “relationship between husband and wife had broken down irretrievably.”
The split came on the same day as another moment of epochal change for Murdoch. The News Corp empire that he built from a single newspaper in Adelaide is to be split and yesterday morning was the day that the company set out the timetable for trading to begin in the two new companies — one focused on his Fox film and television stations and a second, bearing the News Corp name, housing his newspapers, including the Sun and the Times.
That split came about after his newspaper business was shattered by the hacking scandal that has rocked his empire and led to the arrest of some of his closest allies and his public humiliation. However, announcing the separation now was, it was suggested, timed to ensure that investors were abreast of the financial implications.
Murdoch is worth an estimated US$11.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine, and will control a 30 percent bloc of voting shares in the two successor companies.
Deng is likely only to benefit in a limited — but still sizeable — way from their separation: The couple signed a prenuptial agreement and two further agreements in 2002 and 2004.
Anna Murdoch, his second wife of 32 years, received a US$1.7 billion divorce settlement, including US$100 million in cash.
However, there will be financial benefits for Deng’s family in the future, which could create complications for the family’s long-term control of his newspapers and television stations.
Each of Murdoch’s six children has an equal economic interest in the family trust that controls the all-important bloc of shares. Prudence MacLeod, the only daughter from his first, short marriage to Patricia Booker, is the oldest, but the best known are Elisabeth, Lachlan and James, children from his union with Anna.