The attention was intoxicating to Starr. “She was his little doll, his pride and joy that he loved to show off,” says Joan Jedell, the publisher of Hampton Sheet magazine, which, at Starr’s urging, put Passage on the cover in 2008. (“WOW! Who is the stunning beauty on the cover of Joan Jedell’s Hampton Sheet magazine?” Liz Smith gushed in the Post. “Joan tells me Diane is married to financial wiz Ken Starr.”)
Passage wanted to do something to help single mothers, and Starr helped her set up a nonprofit called S.P.I.N. (Single Parents in Need) and a pole-dancing competition, Pole Superstars, to help fund it. But as eager as he was to please her, and enamored as he was of her God-given talents—one year, at the annual Allen & Co. retreat in Sun Valley, he played a video of Passage’s pole-dancing on his iPhone for a group of moguls—Starr was also aware of the optics. “It was important to him that I have some sort of career title when he introduced me to clients,” says Passage. He encouraged her to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, introducing her to producers and urging her to develop movie projects. She loved music, so he goaded investors into buying an interest in a record company so that she could work in A&R. He also pushed Passage to shed her friends from Scores and pal around with socialites instead. This was easier said than done. “Needless to say, society was not that receptive to Ken’s young wife, the stripper from Scores,” says Jedell.
“I got a reputation for being a gold digger,” Passage says. “But I would say that the majority of women on Park Avenue are probably up to worse stuff than I ever was.” Occasionally at parties, Starr, with his intimate knowledge of the financial lives of the rich and famous, would fill her in on the backstories of the people in attendance. “There are a lot of women married to powerful men who come from colorful backgrounds,” she says. And there were plenty of hustlers. Like the Upper East Side doyenne who forced her husband to sign over property by threatening to reveal that he was gay. Or the well-known woman whose relationships with exclusively high-net-worth individuals came with an expiration date—if they don’t propose in the allotted time, she moves on. That, to Passage, was especially redolent of Scores, where dancers will call it quits on a customer if they don’t spend enough money after two or three songs.
At one event, Starr pointed out a billionaire and the new wife he’d met online. She was a single mother and had been living in a trailer park when they met, Starr said, and they’d fallen madly in love.
“Please,” Passage said, eyeing the husband, who was much older and had to be a full foot shorter than his wife. “She’s nothing but a contract whore.”
“He always just saw the romance,” she says now, “but that’s not how I saw it. I saw 80-year-old men with 40-year-old wives. I saw a lap dance, a blow job, a Mercedes.”
Starr pouted the rest of the night—her comment had perhaps hit a little too close to home. Passage says she didn’t marry him for purely mercenary reasons, and by all accounts, he was besotted with her. But “there was always an element of it that still felt like an arrangement,” she says. “I was his show pony.” And she was expected to perform. Ken’s social mania meant the couple was out nearly every night, and it took a toll on her relationship with her son, who was coming home from school around the time his mother was getting her hair and makeup done. For what? Sometimes she didn’t even know. “Some of those black-tie events were so fucking boring. We went to one at Blackstone? Their holiday party? I was like, I can’t believe I spent so much time getting ready for this.”
But the pros outweighed the cons. “Ken never said no to me,” Passage says. She got whatever she wanted: diamonds—at least a quarter-million dollars’ worth, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office—designer clothes, even a new pair of boobs. They went to Egypt to hike Mount Sinai, to Rome to see the Sistine Chapel, to Hawaii to swim with sharks. In April 2010, Starr paid $7.5 million for Passage’s dream home, a five-bedroom triplex on 74th Street with a pool and a home theater. A few weeks later, they had friends over to celebrate in their 1,500-square-foot garden flanked by towering bamboo fronds. Passage worked the crowd in a blue Gucci dress from that season. She was the perfect Upper East Side hostess, albeit with a tattoo snaking around her arm. It was the first and last party in their home together.