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Maharishi Arianna

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Huffington assumed that she would soon be married. She directed a lot of energy toward wooing her first love, a columnist for the London Times, but he was a depressive who preferred cats to people. (“I love the detachment of cats,” he once wrote. “No cat ever gave its entire heart to a human being.”) At 30, after realizing the relationship was doomed, she moved to New York. It was the early eighties, she was living on the Upper East Side (“in an apartment with a gigantic foyer and bathrooms the size of ottomans,” she says), and she was quickly called a “socialite” by the press, a name she says she earned: “Lunches at Le Cirque, dances at the Metropolitan Museum, weekends in the Hamptons, and intimate black-tie dinners for 36.” Huffington tired of the social whirl after a few years, regarding striving New Yorkers as “hungry souls desperate to see their photographs in W or Town & Country—thus assuring them of new invitations in the morning … an addiction that hounded them, occasionally to their graves.”

Huffington’s counterpoint to this lifestyle was her longtime guru, John-Roger, a Mormon from Utah who fell into a nine-day coma in the sixties during routine surgery for a kidney stone, after which he found that a new personality (John) had taken over his old one (Roger). With a background in neurolinguistic programming and all manner of New Age frippery like walking on hot coals with Tony Robbins, Huffington began to think of herself as a guru as well, setting forth a simple, benign message in a self-help book she wrote in 1994: Each individual, she said, has a responsibility to rise above our “baby bawlings and mewlings” and connect with the good, compassionate side of ourselves, otherwise known as the soul or our “fourth instinct” (the first three are survival, power, and the sexual urge). “Worry is a form of atheism,” she has explained. “And so is most fear.” (Maureen Orth, in an explosive 1994 Vanity Fair story about Huffington, claimed that she received consulting payments, as much as $10,000 at one time, from John-Roger, perhaps in return for introducing him to her famous friends; Huffington denied this and, in fact, tells me that she tithes 10 percent of her income today to various charities, including those run by John-Roger.)

AOL had nothing to believe in for a decade, so it made sense to believe in Arianna, with her hypnotic power.

In the mid-eighties, Ann Getty introduced Arianna to the shy but handsome Texas oil heir Michael Huffington, and the two were quickly married. The couple moved to Santa Barbara, California, where they spent over $5 million so that he could become a congressman, then another $27.5 million to unseat Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein, losing by two points. (Michael Huffington, who was largely thought to be a paper doll dressed by his wife, gave few interviews during the campaigns.) Even as a Republican, Arianna didn’t go in for the dumb groupthink of David Broder and Sally Quinn or turn into a wealthy center-right Washington wife like Georgette Mosbacher—that was all too boring for her. She appeared on Newt Gingrich’s arm during the Contract With America days, but dumped him as his star began to fall, explaining that she was becoming disillusioned with the party. When asked about her switch to the Democratic Party, she says that she’s always been a social liberal and fiscal conservative.

Marriage wasn’t a panacea for Huffington, as the relationship ended in divorce, with her husband later publicly revealing that he was bisexual. “Arianna is probably the only woman in America who insists that her husband wasn’t gay before he met her,” says a friend. She does not want to remarry, and doesn’t seem to care much about love, which she may see as an obstacle to achieving her own dreams. Huffington loves to be around her girlfriends, and in fact one of her tricks is befriending the wives of rich and powerful men: Wendi Murdoch (Rupert’s wife), Kathy Freston (Tom’s wife), and Willow Bay (Bob Iger’s wife) are in her inner circle. Her best friend, though, is David Geffen, and the two have long been dates for each other at Hollywood events—he’s a fun gossip, self-effacing, and the only guy at the party without an agenda. Behind the scenes, Huffington will occasionally plot with him, but her influence in national politics on fund-raising, even in Los Angeles, is negligible. Her power is entirely based on her life in public.

AOL had nothing to believe in for a decade, so it made sense to believe in Arianna, with her narrative abilities and her hypnotic, cult-leader power. The corporate history of the company, of course, is particularly fraught. It was always predicated on a weedy premise: that one needed AOL, with its diskettes crammed in mailboxes like so many Crate & Barrel catalogues, to get online. With Steve Case, the Hawaiian-born AOL chief nicknamed “Vanilla Man,” at the helm, making enormous ad deals and taking pieces of companies like eBay, the price went up and up.


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