Outrageous and Tragic Tales of Amazingly Wealthy Kids

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Aug. 17 2013 6:30 AM

Rich Kids of Longform

Paris Hilton, Princeton phonies, and the prince who blew through billions. 

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Teodorin Nguema Obiang, Equatorial Guinea's vice-president in charge of security and defense, cuts his birthday cake. U.S. intelligence considers him to be an "unstable, reckless idiot."

Photo by Jerome Leroy/AFP/Getty Images

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The Poorest Rich Kids in the World
Sabrina Rubin Erdely • Rolling Stone • August 2013

Georgia and Patterson Inman, 15-year-old twins, are the only living heirs to the $1 billion Duke tobacco fortune. They are also emotional wrecks who have barely survived a hellacious childhood.

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“Raised by two drug addicts with virtually unlimited wealth, Georgia and Patterson survived a gilded childhood that was also a horror story of Dickensian neglect and abuse. They were globe-trotting trust-fund babies who snorkeled in Fiji, owned a pet lion cub and considered it normal to bring loose diamonds to elementary school for show and tell. And yet they also spent their childhoods inhaling freebase fumes, locked in cellars and deadbolted into their bedrooms at night in the secluded Wyoming mountains and on their ancestral South Carolina plantation. While their father spent millions on drug binges and extravagances, the children lived like terrified prisoners, kept at bay by a revolving door of some four dozen nannies and caregivers, underfed, undereducated, scarcely noticed except as objects of wrath.

“’We were so fearful. I would hide in cupboards smaller than that,’ says Georgia in her Southern-tinged lilt, pointing to a two-foot-tall cabinet in the kitchen of their spacious Park City, Utah, home where the twins, now 15, are reassembling their lives and residing with their mother, a woman who has seen her own share of trouble and who has only recently become a presence in her children's lives. Patterson anxiously paces across the house's open floor plan with its panoramic view of snowcapped mountains while he and his sister take turns narrating their harrowing history. Unfailingly polite, earnest and occasionally skittish, the twins radiate a sheltered naiveté that can make them seem far younger, or like visitors from another culture. For instance, Georgia confesses she's never heard of the children's party game musical chairs.

“’What is it?’ she asks, her eyes wide and curious. ‘No, really, tell me!’"

The Prince Who Blew Through Billions
Mark Seal • Vanity Fair • July 2011

On the brother of the Sultan of Brunei, Prince Jefri Bolkiah, who has “probably gone through more cash than any other human being on earth.”

“The sultan’s biggest extravagance turned out to be his love for his youngest brother, Jefri, his constant companion in hedonism. They raced their Ferraris through the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital, at midnight, sailed the oceans on their fleet of yachts (Jefri named one of his Tits, its tenders Nipple 1 and Nipple 2), and imported planeloads of polo ponies and Argentinean players to indulge their love for that game, which they sometimes played with Prince Charles. They snapped up real estate like Monopoly pieces—hundreds of far-flung properties, a collection of five-star hotels (the Dorchester, in London, the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, in Paris, the New York Palace, and Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel, in Los Angeles), and an array of international companies (including Asprey, the London jeweler to the Queen, for which Jefri paid about $385 million in 1995, despite the fact that that was twice Asprey’s estimated market value or that Brunei’s royal family constituted a healthy portion of its business).

“Back home, the sultan erected a 1,788-room palace on 49 acres, ‘which is without equal in the world for offensive and ugly display,’ in the words of one British magnate, and celebrated his 50th birthday with a blowout featuring a concert by Michael Jackson, who was reportedly paid $17 million, in a stadium built for the occasion. (When the sultan flew in Whitney Houston for a performance, he is rumored to have given her a blank check and instructed her to fill it in for what she thought she was worth: more than $7 million, it turned out.) The brothers routinely traveled with 100-member entourages and emptied entire inventories of stores such as Armani and Versace, buying 100 suits of the same color at a time. When they partied, they indulged in just about everything forbidden in a Muslim country. Afforded four wives by Islamic law, they left their multiple spouses and scores of children in their palaces while they allegedly sent emissaries to comb the globe for the sexiest women they could find in order to create a harem the likes of which the world had never known.”

Lost in the Meritocracy
Walter Kirn • Atlantic • January 2005

An overachiever on what he did and didn’t learn at Princeton.

"’We figured out everyone's share of the new living room,’ the boyfriend said. ‘Yours is five hundred and ten.’

“I laughed out loud. ‘But I didn't order any of it.’

"’Well, you'll benefit from it, won't you?’ Jennifer said. This was my first encounter with a line of reasoning that would echo through my years at Princeton: even unbidden privileges must be paid for. Tuition, the university liked to tell us, covered only a fraction of the cost of our education. What's more, the benefits of a Princeton degree were so far-reaching and long-lasting, supposedly, that for the duration of our lives we would be expected to give money to various university funds and causes. I'd assumed that a deal was a deal when Princeton admitted me, but I was wrong. The price of getting in—to the university itself, and to the great world it promised to open up—was an endless dunning for nebulous services that weren't included in the initial quote.

“After I told my roommates to stop bothering me, they convened a meeting in the common room and voted to ban me from touching any item, including the rug, that I had not bought stock in. This put the entire suite—except for the bathroom, my bedroom, and the hallway leading to the front door—off limits to me. I raged inside. The common room had evolved into a concentrated version of what the whole campus had come to represent for me: a private association of the powerful that I'd been permitted to visit on a day pass, which, I sensed, could be revoked as suddenly as it had been issued.”

Princess Paris
Vanessa Grigoriadis • Rolling Stone • Nov 2003

A profile of Paris Hilton at the height of her fame.

“What you think of Paris Hilton, what she thinks of herself and what she's really like are three entities so separate and distinct that if they were people they wouldn't end up in the same room. You think—if you think of her at all—that Hilton, 22, is a stupid, spoiled, superficial socialite who dresses like a high-class escort and, given the recently disclosed pornographic video she made with an ex-boyfriend, probably acts like one, too. She thinks she's a pet lover who donates to charity, does not drink or do drugs and hardly ever goes out. ‘I am not a party person,’ says Hilton, blinking her catlike royal-blue eyes. ‘Mostly I like to spend time with my dogs.’

“There is possibly only one person on the planet from whom this sounds utterly insane, and that is Paris Hilton, America's most famous example of someone who is famous for going out. But at this scene-y Japanese restaurant in West Hollywood, right after she tells the waiter to turn the heat off or she's ‘going to die,’ Hilton maintains that this is fact. Fact, even though in the coming week or so she will attend the reopening of Mynt, a nightclub in Miami, a benefit party for the Carl Wilson Foundation, a Whipped Couture party, Usher's twenty-fifth birthday party, the premiere of Scary Movie 3 and the launch party for a new Dior 'watch. ‘I hate clubs—so lame,’ she drawls, picking at her sashimi, in a Valley Girl voice as deep and low-pitched as Romy and Michele's. ‘I never go to them.’"

Members Only: Inside the World of Late Night Shots
Angela Valdez • Washington City Paper • July 2007

An invite-only social network for Georgetown assholes.

“The guys are wearing golf shirts and drinking Miller Lites. They’ve been telling raunchy tales about what happens after dark in Georgetown, playing toward expectations. They know I’m a reporter on assignment. At first, the sordid tales of preppy hookups just make me laugh.

“Then the bearded one in the middle busts out with this: ‘Do you like anal sex?’ I squint. I’m confused. ‘Do you do anal?’ he repeats, head bobbing with excitement. The litany continues. Do I want to take it in the ass? Have I ever taken it in the ass? My silence is taken as an affirmative and he announces that this interview will go no further unless he receives a hand job. I retreat into a hole carved out during similar sessions in high school and head for the door.

“Later, at home, I decide to find the fellows online. It’s easy to do since these were no run-of-the-mill meatheads. All three are members of Late Night Shots, a very exclusive, invite-only social-networking Web site. The anal-sex proposition came from John Tabacco, a 25-year-old graduate of Georgetown Prep and Denison University. His friends were both graduates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

Poor Little Rich Girls
Moe Tkacik • New York Observer • August 2010

How two sisters, heirs to the Bronfman fortune, may have blown $100 million supporting the cult-like group NXIVM.

“Ms. Bronfman sensed a connection between the Dalai Lama’s teachings and her training. ‘The way he looks at things is very scientific and very much in line with the philosophy of NXIVM,’ she told the host. ‘I said, “Well, that kind of sounds like what we do!” And I thought, “Maybe I could introduce myself, and bring him here and introduce him to Keith.” Because I think Keith is a scientist and also a great philosopher.’

“Ms. Bronfman was referring to NXIVM founder Keith Raniere, a bespectacled 49-year-old with graying, shoulder-length hair. Mr. Raniere, who goes by the moniker Vanguard, bills himself as a ‘leader in human potential development’ and has trademarked a philosophy he calls the Rational Inquiry Method. He is what you would get, said one former associate, ‘if David Koresh and Bernie Madoff had a child.’ Over the past seven years, Mr. Raniere has earned the devotion of Sara Bronfman and her sister Clare. In that time, according to his former girlfriend and financial adviser Babara Bouchey, Mr. Raniere has also squandered more than $100 million of the Bronfman liquor fortune, destabilizing one of New York’s most prominent business and social dynasties.

Teodorin's World
Ken Silverstein • Foreign Policy • March 2011

A profile of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the Malibu-dwelling, “fantastically corrupt” dictator-in-waiting of Equatorial Guinea. Teodorin, as his friends call him, is considered by U.S. intelligence to be “an unstable, reckless idiot.”

“All those millions purchased Teodorin a lavish and debauched lifestyle, according to allegations in a series of previously unreported civil lawsuits filed against him by a dozen former employees at the Malibu estate. They claim they were cheated out of salaries, overtime wages, and work-related expenses for items ranging from gasoline to toilet paper, while being forced to support a tawdry setup straight out of the movie The Hangover: There were drug ‘binges,’ as one ICE document claimed, escort service girls, Playboy bunnies, and even a tiger. ‘I never witnessed him perform anything that looked like work,’ reads a legal filing on behalf of Dragan Deletic, one of Teodorin's former drivers. ‘His days consisted entirely of sleeping, shopping and partying.’ (Without responding to specifics, a Los Angeles lawyer for Teodorin, Kevin Fisher, dismissed the charges as ‘salacious’ and ‘extreme,’ adding, ‘The allegations have not been verified and the people making them are not subject to perjury, so I don't give a great deal of credence to them.’)

Leo, Prince of the City
Nancy Jo Sales • New York • June 1998

On a 23-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio and his crew.

“‘They’ are the fun-lovin' guys you always see Leo around with. Even before there was Leomania, Leo always traveled with his pack of devotees, known in Hollywood circles as ‘The Pussy Posse.’ ‘They're all about seeing the girls,’ says a magazine photographer in New York who once had to sneak Leo and his boys, then the uninvited, into a Victoria's Secret event.

“The group's core members constitute a frat house of young men, some of whom are actually famous, like Leo. There's Lukas Haas, who has not yet become Leo, and Tobey Maguire—the pensive youth in The Ice Storm —who is, perhaps, waiting to. There's Harmony Korine, the Gummo boy auteur, and David Blaine, the levitating magician, who was recently spotted zipping around town on his new motorcycle with Leo—they hit Moomba, Chaos, Veruka, and NV, where Mariah Carey had to wait in line to get a meeting. ‘I have fun with him, that's for sure,’ Leo said of Blaine two years ago when I was doing a story on the magician. ‘He'll do some pretty fucking crazy things. He's like a monkey with electrodes stuck to his head!’

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform’s complete archive.

Max Linsky is a founding editor of Longform.org.

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