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Billionaires Are Free

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To defend his zone of privacy, Burkle has put together a fearsome, cloak-and-daggerish security apparatus, including crisis manager Mike Sitrick (who was brought in to quiet things down when hedge-fund manager Bruce McMahan was accused of conducting an affair with his own daughter) and Frank Renzi (who was in President Clinton’s Secret Service detail).

His wife—who petitioned for alimony of $410,000 per month but eventually received $40,000—provided a sobering view of the end of billionaire romance: “My husband is enormously wealthy, a billionaire, has his own 757 jet, and literally could track me down anywhere in the world,” she testified. “He is used to exerting control over all the people he comes into contact with, including myself ... He cannot stand losing—anything!”

It may not always be this way with billionaires. The new crop of Internet billionaires seem to have learned from the example of their forerunners and are determined to live life differently in the “Gooveau Riche” era. Sergey Brin and Larry Page guard their privacy so closely that little is known about where they live other than it’s in Palo Alto, and the most impressive cars they own are Priuses. When Brin and Page met with the Stanford grad students who started YouTube to negotiate the deal earlier this week, it was for lunch at a Denny’s. They do, however, own their own Boeing 767 jet, which includes two bedrooms and hammocks hung from the common-room ceiling.

Hammocks may not be the style of billionaire Roustam Tariko, the Russian banking and vodka tycoon, but he has a similarly freewheeling approach to life. Tariko had one of the city’s most incredible parties at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, to toast his new brand of vodka. Over a thousand people, dressed in their finest bling, gathered there to eat borscht and caviar under the lit statue. I remember Tariko running around, slightly flushed in a pressed suit with a crisp white collar, greeting everyone from Helena Christensen to Donna Karan as Duran Duran played their old hits onstage.

More recently, it was rumored he’d bought Picasso’s Dora Maar With Cat for $95 million. Tariko told Lillian Ross that he had done nothing of the sort. “Not me,” he said. “Art dealers from all over the world are now asking me to buy Picassos, other Impressionists. I prefer Renaissance, Caravaggio. But I do not buy them. I’d rather invest in my freedom, rather than in my walls.”


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