Leibovitz had also built a life that had become extraordinarily expensive to maintain. It wasn’t just the mortgages on the homes. It was the Range Rover, the trips to Paris, the chef and housekeeper, the handyman, the personal yoga instructor, the terrace gardener, and the live-in nanny. There was only one man Leibovitz deemed qualified to work on anything involving air-conditioning or ductwork at either residence, and he lived in Vermont. “She wanted her life to be like a magazine spread,” Kellum says. “Everything beautiful, nothing out of place. She wanted everything to be perfect.”
Leibovitz was also famously generous with her family. “If I was in a bookstore with my sister, I would be afraid to even look at a book,” says Leibovitz’s younger sister Paula. “If I even looked at it, she’d turn around and buy it for me.” When Marilyn Leibovitz was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2007, Leibovitz rented her a house on the ocean so she’d be able to hear the same surf she heard as a child summering on the Jersey shore.
It’s impossible to account for all of Leibovitz’s line-item expenses, but as surprising as it may be to outsiders, she was clearly spending beyond her means. One close associate of Leibovitz’s theorizes that she identified too much with her subjects. “Photographers aren’t professional athletes, recording artists, or supermodels,” the source says. “Compared to 99 percent of the world, she makes a vast fortune. The problem occurs when a person becomes so famous that they start feeling that they’re more in line financially with Oprah or Madonna.”
In 2004, still in need of money to help pay for the $1.87 million purchase of the damaged Greenwich Village house, Leibovitz took out a bridge loan, a short-term, typically high-interest financial instrument. The loan was intended to tide her over until she could sell her other properties. Later that year, she sold the 26th Street studio for almost $11.4 million; in 2005, she sold the London Terrace penthouse. Those sales must have generated millions in profit, but they still didn’t get her out of the red. Leibovitz, like so many Americans during the boom years, had been taking out additional mortgages, heaping loan upon loan. Before selling her photo studio, she’d borrowed an additional $3.5 million against it, above the original $2.1 million mortgage. The initial mortgage on the Rhinebeck property was about $1.8 million. Eventually, she had some $11 million mortgaged against it. She’d bought the Greenwich Village property with a $1.2 million loan, and three years later tacked on an addition $2.2 million mortgage. By last year, the total value of the mortgages she was carrying came to about $15 million. Assuming she had a 5 percent 30-year fixed-rate mortgage on that amount, her annual outlay just to service the debt on those loans would have come to almost $1 million.
Leibovitz also had tax problems. Because of income taxes the IRS said Leibovitz had failed to pay, the agency attached liens on her properties totaling $1.9 million in 2005 and 2006. Dutchess County records show that she had also neglected to pay more than $92,000 in 2005 property taxes for the Rhinebeck place.
By the end of 2006, Leibovitz needed money desperately and was probably unable to tap additional funds from traditional lenders. Her only alternative was to find someone willing to lend her more. Late that year, she secured two mortgages totaling almost $7.25 million from an entity called Rhinebeck Properties LLC, which had its address at Condé Nast’s 4 Times Square headquarters. Rumors had long circulated that Condé Nast offered its top executives low-interest loans, and at the time, the company was still flush—the following September’s 754-page issue of Vogue threatened to cripple mail carriers everywhere. The cover featured a Leibovitz picture of Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette in a towering wig. Leibovitz was probably too consumed to see any irony in the fact that she and a slew of assistants—as well as the documentary film crew following her—had traveled all the way to Versailles, the site of Marie Antoinette’s last stand, to get their shot.
Leibovitz’s financial-management team had long consisted of her agent, Jimmy Moffat, co-founder of the elite photo-representation agency Art + Commerce, and her accountant, Rick Kantor. Kantor declined to comment for this story, but Moffat says he and Kantor did all they could to discourage Leibovitz’s rampant spending. “Did I or Rick or even Annie herself say all the time, ‘We’ve got to downsize’? Sure,” he says. The Greenwich Village townhouse, he points out, was supposed to be a form of scaling back. The plan was to unload the London Terrace place and the 26th Street studio and buy one property in which she could both live and work. “Through ill planning or bad luck, it didn’t work out the way she wanted it to,” Moffat says. (Kantor declined to comment.)