Ivana Trump, first wife of Donald Trump, dies at 73

Reuters file photo
Ivana Trump arrives at amfAR’s Cinema Against AIDS 2006 event in France on May 25, 2006.

Ivana Trump, a Czech immigrant who was the first wife of Donald Trump during his rise to prominence as a celebrity and real estate investor in the 1980s and was the mother of his three eldest children, died July 14 at her home in Manhattan. She was 73.

The former president announced her death in a post on Truth Social, the social media outlet he launched. Mrs. Trump was found unconscious on a staircase in her apartment on East 64th Street near Central Park after police received an emergency call at 12:40 p.m. and she was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the event. NYPD detectives began an investigation and found no sign of forced entry or obvious sign of trauma suggesting criminality. The New York City medical examiner’s office will try to determine whether a fall contributed to her death, officials said.

Mrs. Trump, who dubbed her husband “the Donald” during their 13-year marriage, had been a competitive skier in her native Czechoslovakia and later became a model in Canada and New York. Accounts vary about how they met, but at the time, she noted in a 1995 memoir “The Best Is Yet to Come” that he “wasn’t famous” and “wasn’t fabulously wealthy.”

At one point during their courtship, they visited a ski chalet in Aspen, Colo., Mrs. Trump recalled in a 2017 memoir, “Raising Trump.”

“It was a very sexy chalet,” she wrote. “I knew Donald had picked it for my benefit. I’m a realist, but I have a strong romantic streak and can see the moon and the stars. Donald wouldn’t see the moon if it were sitting on his chest.”

Nonetheless, their engagement was sealed with a three-carat Tiffany diamond ring and a prenuptial contract. Ivana balked at a clause that would require her to return any gifts from her husband if the marriage broke up. In the end, she was allowed to keep any clothing or gifts. Donald Trump’s longtime attorney and mentor, Roy Cohn, who worked up at least four contracts before the final agreement was complete.

After Donald and Ivana Trump were married on April 7, 1977, they became one of the most famous power couples in New York, constantly featured in the tabloids, with a social profile growing as much as the Trump business empire. By 1984, they had three children: Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump.

Throughout the marriage, Mrs. Trump had an active role in her husband’s businesses, even when their children were toddlers. In 1979, she became a vice president in the Trump organization, in charge of decorating the interiors of some of her husband’s properties. In 1984, Donald Trump bought a mansion in Greenwich, Conn., followed a year later by the $10 million purchase of the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.

As Trump Tower was being built, Donald Trump asked his architect to design a second apartment for his family, in case his marriage fell apart. In 1984, the family moved into the new tower, occupying a three-story, 53-room penthouse that included his-and-hers bathrooms: Donald Trump’s was dark brown marble, and Ivana’s was translucent pink onyx.

Mrs. Trump also decorated several other properties, including the Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City. She was named president of New York’s Plaza Hotel shortly after Donald Trump bought it in 1988 for more than $400 million. She received an annual salary of $1 — plus all the haute-couture clothing she wanted, which reportedly totaled as much as $500,000 a year.

By all accounts, Mrs. Trump had a key role in restoring the fading hotel to its former glory. Her flashy decorating style came to symbolize the over-the-top sumptuousness found at many Trump buildings.

“If something could be leafed in gold or upholstered with damask, it was,” Mrs. Trump wrote in a 2017 memoir, “Raising Trump.” “It was the ’80s, and my aesthetic at the time was over-the-top glitz, glamour and drama.”

Over the Christmas holidays in 1989, as the family vacationed in Aspen, Mrs. Trump confronted her husband over rumors she’d heard about his affair with a younger model, Marla Maples. At lunch, she told a friend to pass the word that “I love my husband very much.”

Maples was standing nearby, overheard the exchange and said, “I’m Marla and I love your husband.”

“Get lost,” Mrs. Trump replied, by her own account.

The marriage quickly deteriorated, and the New York tabloids competed to dig out lurid tales about the breakup, culminating in a headline in the New York Post: “Best Sex I’ve Ever Had,” which purported to be a quotation from Maples. When editors questioned whether Maples had really said those words, the paper’s managing editor, Lou Colasuonno, replied that the headline was “libel-proof. Donald will never complain about this one.”

The battle over the divorce went on for months and was finally settled in 1991, on grounds of “cruel and inhuman treatment.” Mrs. Trump received payments totaling $14 million and kept the house in Greenwich. She had primary custody of the three children and received child support and alimony totaling more than $600,000 a year.

During the depositions and other courtroom proceedings, Mrs. Trump later wrote, “I put on my headphones and cranked Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive.'”

“The lawyers were going back and forth, and I was singing in my head, ‘Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die?’ Well, that was not going to happen. I would survive.”

Ivana Marie Zelnickova was born Feb. 20, 1949, in what is now Zlín, in the Czech Republic. Her father was an engineer, and her mother was a telephone operator.

She showed talent in skating and skiing in her youth, and claimed to have been an alternate on her country’s national skiing team. She graduated from Charles University in Prague and in the early 1970s married Austrian skier Alfred Winklmayr.

She said the marriage was never consummated and soon ended in divorce, but she obtained an Austrian passport, which helped her escape communist Czechoslovakia.

After her divorce from Donald Trump, Mrs. Trump went on to a varied and successful career, first as a writer of thinly disguised novels, such as “For Love Alone” and “Free to Love,” about a young skier from Europe who marries a rich American and goes through a painful divorce. The books sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

In the 1990s, she began to promote her own brand of clothing and jewelry on the Home Shopping Network, reportedly selling as much as $4 million worth of goods a month. She later signed a deal to sell her perfumes through JCPenney.

Mrs. Trump often spoke of her resilience and self-reliance. In the 1990s, after her divorce from Donald Trump, she told People magazine, “Do you think that I’m going to lie down and die? Not a chance, girl . . . I have a million deals here and everywhere. I’m going to be just fine, honey.”

She was married and divorced two more times, to Riccardo Mazzucchelli and Rossano Rubicondi.

Survivors include her children and 10 grandchildren.

After Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Mrs. Trump called herself the “first lady” in an ABC TV interview, sparking a dispute with the actual first lady, Melania Trump.

The White House issued a statement, saying there was “clearly no substance to this statement from an ex, this is unfortunately only attention-seeking and self-serving noise.”

Mrs. Trump’s “Raising Trump” memoir was not exactly critical of her former husband, but it did reveal sides of his character that few other people would know. During their marriage, for instance, Mrs. Trump got a poodle named Chappy.

“Donald was not a dog fan,” she wrote. “When I told him I was bringing Chappy with me to New York, he said, ‘No.’

“It’s me and Chappy or no one!’ I insisted, and that was that.”

Chappy, she wrote, “had an equal dislike of Donald.”

Despite their contentious divorce, she maintained contact with Donald Trump and, according to both, actively advised him during his 2016 presidential run and occasionally when he was in the Oval Office.

“I suggest a few things,” she said in 2016. “We speak before and after the appearances and he asks me what I thought.” She said she told him to “be more calm,” but “Donald cannot be calm.”