She was also in love. During the making of Siesta, in 1987, Barkin fell for her co-star, Gabriel Byrne. When they first met on the set, Byrne told her she had the most beautiful set of eyes in the world.
“Thanks,” Barkin said with typical bluntness. “They’re contacts.”
Born in Dublin, Byrne was one of six children, and before acting, he had worked as an archaeologist, a cook, and a matador in Spain. Barkin remained the bad boy in the relationship. “[Byrne] has an innocence and honesty I don’t have,” she once said. They married on a whim in Las Vegas. “I think if we’d planned it for three months, one of us would’ve backed out,” she recalled. “He’d also never been married, and he was 38. So someone would’ve not made it to the wedding, for sure.” Their marriage lasted five years and produced two children. Their split was amicable. Some gossip writers refer to it as the friendliest divorce in Hollywood.
Moving on from his somewhat less tidy divorce, Perelman met his second wife, Claudia Cohen, the New York Post gossip columnist turned entertainment-television reporter, over lunch at Le Cirque, a restaurant he dined at so often he began calling it his “cafeteria.”
Perelman and Cohen seemed a perfect fit: She provided him entrée into exclusive social circles, and as a couple, they created society news by constantly renovating their homes and making extreme demands on their contractors. One observer quoted in When Money Was King assessed the couple this way: “They were loved in public, scorned in private, and lived this fairy-tale life.”
The fairy tale produced another Perelman child, and perhaps Perelman’s greatest conquest, Revlon, which he purchased using $1.8 billion in junk bonds. The deal was considered one of the nastiest takeovers in corporate history.
In 1992, Perelman met Patricia Duff, then married to Michael Medavoy, the chairman of TriStar Pictures, over dinner at Taillevent, in Paris. Perelman was there with Cohen on vacation and had scheduled dinner with their friends Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, both of whom did ads for Revlon. Unexpectedly on that trip, Griffith and Johnson ran into Duff and Medavoy, and all agreed to have dinner together, and Perelman was bewitched by Duff.
“This is a man who will take care of you and everyone you know and love forever, whether he has $100 or $100 billion,” Barkin once said of Perelman.
By 1994, Perelman was divorcing Cohen, and later courted Duff. His persistence paid off, and Duff moved to New York to be with him. But the marriage would unravel shortly thereafter, and after eighteen months, the couple filed for divorce. What ensued was one of the most high-profile, costly, and vitriolic breakups in memory, during which Perelman allegedly told Duff, “I will destroy you, and I will enjoy it.”
Duff reportedly claimed, among other things, that a bitter argument had broken out over a prenuptial agreement Perelman had proposed. She went into labor with their daughter, Caleigh, a month early, and Perelman’s lawyers presented her with the document while she was in the hospital, she said. Under the proposed prenup, she said, he offered $1,131,744 a year in payments, maintenance, and jewelry, along with a Connecticut mansion in the event of divorce. She wouldn’t sign. In fact, she was so incensed that she skipped their wedding ceremony planned at Perelman’s rabbi’s house (they ultimately reached a compromise and were married in a civil ceremony). In the divorce case, Duff also claimed that Perelman had obsessively courted her, trailing her uninvited on a trip to Hawaii, and breaking in on a private therapy session in Los Angeles (Perelman said he was invited on the Hawaii trip, and denied the therapist claim). Duff also claimed Perelman had a volcanic temper. In one of their fights, she said, Perelman erupted after she missed a lunch with him on a ski vacation in Aspen, and threw her toiletries against a wall. A court-appointed therapist recommended that Perelman receive therapy to control his temper. The total settlement in their eventual separation was estimated at $30 million.
Duff spent $5.2 million on legal fees, but ultimately lost custody of Caleigh (she did get extensive visitation rights). “On balance,” the judge ruled, “the father is better able to prioritize Caleigh’s interests and promote her well-being.”
If Perelman won the custody battle, though, he lost the public-relations war. At one point, Perelman claimed in court that Caleigh would do fine on a food allowance of $3 a day—he later told the Times he regretted the statement, but didn’t deny it. He was branded by a tabloid as “the meanest dad in America.”
On Oscar night 1999, Ronald Perelman met Ellen Barkin. At the Vanity Fair after-party, he approached her. She remembered his pickup line this way: “So, are you married, or single, or what?”