Then came Lionel, who, as one Libet friend put it, “fit the bill.”
Lionel Bissoon, a Trinidad-born “celebrity weight-loss guru,” as the tabloids called him, first got to know Libet in his Upper West Side office. Lionel’s office is brightly lit and surprisingly spartan for someone who caters to the wealthy and famous in New York, West Palm Beach, and, for a time, Beverly Hills. Behind a neat desk, a wall of diplomas chart Lionel’s medical path from Des Moines School of Osteopathic Medicine to residency at Mount Sinai.
Lionel imported his signature technique, mesotherapy, from France. According to his self-published book, The Cellulite Cure (with a forward by Roberta Flack, who lost 40 pounds after visiting Lionel), cellulite can be combated by injecting a regimen of anti-inflammatories, asthma drugs, blood-vessel dilators, vitamins, and minerals under the skin—sometimes 500 injections in one session.
Libet came to Lionel as a patient. “The moment I saw her, I felt this attraction,” Lionel says. “I’ve dated a lot of beautiful women. There was something chemical.”
Libet felt something, too. She began inviting Lionel to her apartment in the Trump International Hotel & Tower on Central Park West, where she’d amassed a 20,000-square-foot triplex—valued at one point at $62.3 million. For a time, she’d talked of installing a basketball court and a pool.
There were friendly and then increasingly intimate visits. On one, Lionel recalls that Libet greeted him in her underwear. She told him she wanted Lionel to examine a dimple on her thigh.
Usually they settled into the living room, with its vista over Central Park, or else in the library, for wine and conversation. Lionel may have famous clients and a reputation in a certain segment of the medical community, but he likes to describe himself as a regular guy. He can’t shake the image of himself as a poor kid from Trinidad and later Saint Croix and Florida, the high-school dropout with a patchy accent—he says “chiddren” for children. Lionel says he’s hustled for everything he got, and there have been some bumps. He had to declare bankruptcy several years back, and still owes back taxes. These days, he lives in a one-bedroom apartment.
Lionel says that early on, he somehow failed to appreciate the extent of Libet’s wealth. Then one day she invited him to travel on her plane. He assumed she was joking.
“Yeah, right,” he responded.
“No, really,” she said, telling him point-blank, as he recalls, “I’m heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune.”
For Lionel, Libet’s life had its seductions—“I’m not going to lie,” he says. Her chefs prepared wonderful meals and packed delicious snacks to take on the private plane. At her place in Vail, Lionel learned to ski. In New York, Libet sent a car to meet him at the airport. The car deposited him at the helicopter, which landed at the heliport at her farm in Millbrook in upstate New York. The first time Lionel flew over the Millbrook property, he peered down at what he thought was a village. “Those are my barns,” Libet told him. She gave him a gold Frank Muller watch; she shuttled him off to MTV founder Bob Pittman’s party in Mexico—“There were like 60 private planes at this little airport,” recalls Lionel.
If Lionel was titillated by Libet’s world—“It was like a dream,” he says—he didn’t exactly fit in. He didn’t seem to have the vocabulary to fully comprehend it. “In the library, all the books are like really old,” he says. “All the spines are like embroidered.”
And for Lionel, privilege had a downside. “You sit down to have a private moment and somebody is taking your wineglass,” Lionel said. “Jesus Christ, when do you get any freaking privacy?” he complained.
For her part, Libet was initially enthralled by Lionel’s endless and exciting stories. He told her how he’d been adopted by the Little Shell Pembina band, a small group claiming to be a tribe of Native Americans, and how he’d adopted a lion cub and fed her from a bottle. He said he believed in reincarnation. Once he invited an Indian priest to Millbrook, who revealed that Libet had cared for Lionel in a past life.
“He talked about how he wanted to do this thing with his guru where they bury you up to your neck and you go through these spiritual trials,” says Annabel Johnson-Teal, Libet’s 21-year-old daughter, who later came to hate Lionel. “I’m sorry, that is entertaining stuff.”
At first, Libet believed she and Lionel were kindred spirits. She’s a seeker, too. She talked about “opening my mind to things.” She supported an energy healer and traveled with Deepak Chopra. She was absorbed by Lionel’s accounts of his out-of-body travels; in Peru, a shaman guided Lionel on spiritual journeys under the influence of ayahuasca, a hallucinogen. On one journey, Lionel is certain he spoke to God. “I’ve been fortunate,” he says. (As thanks, he gave the Muller watch to his shaman.) Libet even threw a dinner party for Lionel’s guru—Sri Shiva, “my ray of light,” Lionel calls him. She thoughtfully procured the foods he liked, though in the end she was disappointed. After dinner, the guru told gossipy tales about rich patrons, dismissing them as idiots.