Libet in Love

Lady X (“Libit") (1998), oil painting by James Childs, commissioned by Elizabeth Johnson herself.

It’s hard to remember after the vicious custody battle, after the charges of kidnapping and countercharges of extortion, that the whole thing started because Libet Johnson had fallen in love. Deliriously in love. Of course, Libet, one of the richest women in New York, fell in love with some regularity—she’d been married, and divorced, five times and had had a slew of boyfriends besides. But at the beginning, she was certain that this romance would last. Lionel Bissoon, a handsome weight-loss doctor, was “the best man by miles that I have ever met,” she wrote in an e-mail.

For Libet, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, the romance arrived in the nick of time. She’d been worrying that at her age—she was 53—she’d never have another boyfriend. Lionel was, she thought, her last shot. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” she e-mailed him.

In fact, her life seemed to be improving across the board. As her relationship with Lionel developed, she was growing more deeply involved with an orphan community she’d founded in Cambodia. The charity work had given her a sense of purpose that, for all her wealth, hadn’t been there before.

And then, there was another piece of happy news. One day, she called Lionel from Cambodia. Lionel still recalls the phone message: “I found your son.”

Libet denies that she said these words. Still, on July 18, 2003, a typically hot and muggy Cambodian day, she waited for Lionel in the Phnom Penh airport. In her arms, she cradled a 6-month-old orphan, a boy whose brown skin and dark ringlets reminded her of Lionel.

Lionel couldn’t help but register how wonderful Libet looked. She wore white pants, a white T-shirt, and over her loose blonde ponytail a wide-brimmed straw hat. Then Libet put William—she’d named him after her brother—into Lionel’s arms.

Lionel, 41 at the time, had never wanted children. Like William, he didn’t live with his parents as a child. His father was in and out of his life, a lack that seemed to engulf him as he took William into his arms.

“You have this medical training,” he said later. “You know it’s not possible. But I heard a voice in my head saying, ‘Papa, where were you? Why did you leave me?’ ” Recounting that moment later, Lionel stumbled over the words. “I knew this baby was my father,” he said, then corrected himself. “I mean, I knew he was my son.”

A few months later, Libet and Lionel spirited William out of the country on a medical visa—the United States has suspended adoption of Cambodian children—and into their lives.

On February 12, 2004, Lionel e-mailed Libet:

“Hi Baby … I am so happy to be with you, never have I felt so content. You are an amazing woman. And William is the cutest boy ever. I am so lucky.” Lionel sometimes signed his e-mails “JB,” for Jungle Boy; that was Libet’s nickname for him.

Libet wrote back:

“I am the one who is so lucky. We have everything we could ever want in our little family. I am feeling much more relaxed about everything. i love you so much … Can’t wait to see you.” She signed “DG,” for Dancing Girl, the name she called herself.

A decade earlier, Elizabeth Ross Johnson—a brother called her Libet, which stuck—had commissioned a portrait of herself. Painted by society portraitist James Childs, and shown on the preceding page, it’s a remarkable work, both for its skillful execution and for Libet’s fastidiously constructed vision of herself. For the painting, Libet had her decorator redesign the artist’s studio, hanging $5,000 worth of lush Fortuny silk on the wall and adding a dark faux-bois wainscoting. On a table draped in blue sat a nineteenth-century candlestick and bright fuchsia peonies, which her florist continually refreshed over the two years it took to make the painting. In the foreground, Libet reclines on a chaise longue, wearing a stunning Valentino dress of chiffon, silk, and diamonds. The dress is hiked toward her knees, ruffles cascading carelessly to the leopard-skin rug on the floor. She floats a pink-hued arm in the air. It’s the portrait of a seductress.

“Libet loves boys,” explains one of her friends. And boys have always been drawn to her. She’s adventurous, fun-loving, spontaneous. (She flew in a Russian MiG just for kicks.) Also, there’s the money—“Money is a very powerful aphrodisiac,” Libet’s niece, Casey Johnson, once explained.

By the age of 40, Libet had attracted five husbands, who had given her four children. Libet had always wanted children. Fortunately, while the men departed, the children stayed.

For Libet, husband-and-father stock had been mostly Waspy men from her social background. After the husbands, though, she seemed attracted to a more exotic sort: rougher-edged, often darker, and usually younger. “She’s never been conventional, going to the country club,” says a friend. She dated Frédéric Fekkai, the hairdresser turned hair-care mogul; he’s French, though ethnically Egyptian and Vietnamese. She dated Jerome Jeandin, her chauffeur at the Ritz, where she always stayed when in Paris; he received a Ferrari when they split up, according to news reports. Libet also dated a South American man some twenty years younger, a romance that apparently fizzled when she met his family. She briefly dated Michael Nouri, the actor, who is of Iraqi descent; even more briefly Michael Bolton, the singer.

Lionel, Libet, and William in September 2003.

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.

Libet at the New York City Ballet Gala in 1989. Photo: Marina Garnier

For the most part, though, Lionel was fun. She liked his rough edges, even his coarse humor. Sometimes Jungle Boy shouted into the phone like Tarzan: Ahh-uh, ahh-uh, ahh. Libet loved that—it was so outrageous.

One day, Libet called Lionel and screamed a Tarzan yell into the phone herself.

“How do you like that?” she asked proudly.

“Where are you?”

“I’m in Saks.”

“You’re in Saks!” he repeated.

“Yeah, but I feel comfortable,” Lionel recalls her saying. “I can do that with you.”

With Libet, not surprisingly, there was always a sensitive point in a romance. Libet liked to coddle her men; still, she worried that they liked her for what she could do for them. “She wants desperately to find a man who can appreciate her for who she is, not whence she came,” says her friend Paul Schwartz, a veterinarian. “She wants a man to love her for her capacity to love him.”

In an e-mail, Lionel wrote to her, “I have told you many times, I am only interested in you because of you. I don’t care what you have, how much you have … I look forward to dancing with you, not just the tango, but the dance of life. Love, Jungle Boy.”

It was just what she wanted to hear.

At about the same time that Libet was falling for Lionel, Cambodia “wrapped itself around my heart,” as she put it in a video about her charity. Libet thinks of herself as an idealist. Cambodia allowed her to put her wherewithal where her idealism was, something she’d rarely done before.

Of course, since Libet’s grandfather Robert Wood Johnson Jr. built Johnson & Johnson into a pharmaceutical giant, every Johnson has had the wherewithal to do anything—or nothing. The special existential challenge for the Johnsons has been this: What does someone who doesn’t have to do anything do?

Some Johnsons chose to dabble in scandal. J. Seward Johnson, Libet’s “perpetually libidinous” great uncle, as one author put it, took his Polish cook as a third wife, bequeathing her almost his entire fortune. On his death, his pampered children contested the will, leading to a bizarre and captivating trial. Two years ago, after Libet and Lionel split up, Casey, Libet’s niece, added to this family tradition. In the Post, Casey, then 26, accused her famously press-shy aunt Libet of a libidinous streak of her own. She said Libet had snatched Casey’s 38-year-old boyfriend.

Libet has no patience for Casey or her accusations. And yet, Libet probably understood her scandal-sowing niece better than she liked to admit.

One night in bed, Lionel recalls, Libet said that she could identify with the public escapades of Paris Hilton, Casey’s good friend.

“Why?” asked Lionel.

Lying on her back, she moved her legs and her arms like a baby.

“I’m a rich girl, I’m a rich girl,” she sang in a funny voice. She could do anything she wanted, seemed the point.

The rich girl’s dilemma, as Casey has said, is that “there’s nothing left to want.”

Of course, Libet had long told herself that what she really wanted was to do good. For years, though, she didn’t seem to be doing that much of it, except perhaps for high-end merchandisers. She collected expensive homes—she paid $9.1 million for Meryl Streep’s West Village townhouse, though she never lived there. She took Pilates, swam like an Olympian, took her kids traveling all over the world. And she shopped for ever more rarefied goods—as if the usual purchases no longer did the trick. She bought a gorilla sculpted from amethyst and an elephant of aquamarine, gifts to herself that grew out of her “creative relationship” with sculptor Andreas von Zadora- Gerlof, whose work can sell for close to $1 million. And she jumped on her plane and flew to Wichita to inspect the Big Dog, a new custom-made motorcycle. She bought four.

Shopping, though, doesn’t offer lasting satisfaction. “How many days a week can you actually go shopping?” Casey, an extreme case, explained to one reporter, “You think, What have I ever done to alter this world? What will people say? ‘Oh, she had a lot of shoes’?”

When Libet contemplated her set of talents, she decided they were all related to the fact that she’s a mother. “I’m very maternal,” she sometimes told friends. She liked to say that she hoped to find something to unite all her strengths and hopes and desires in a way that could be useful.

Then she discovered Cambodia, which she thought was the missing piece of the puzzle. The country is overrun with children, 9 percent of them orphans. For a small amount of money—$10 million is not much for a Johnson—Libet built Golden Children, a community for orphans on the banks of the Mekong River in Phnom Penh. She recruited, and paid, parents to raise the children and teachers to educate them.

From left: With Frédéric Fekkai in 2001; with Michael Nouri in 1998; with ex-husband Chris Kennan in 1990. Photo: Patrick McMullan; Marina Garnier/Globe Photos; Marina Garnier

“Cambodia has become her life’s work,” says Lucinda Ziesing, Libet’s childhood friend. “It’s given her meaning, direction.” Suddenly, Libet spouted lofty, un-Libet-like goals. “I see these children having the potential to really create social change, to start companies, to run for government, to change the whole future of the country,” she said.

In the beginning, Libet and Lionel loved each other passionately—they made love almost every time they were together. Still, they argued and broke up regularly. “Every other month,” wrote Libet. During those periods, the e-mails would ricochet back and forth. “I think our love affair has played itself out in e-mails and phone calls,” Libet wrote. Then they would try to reconcile, with Lionel, stiffer and more assured, offering pearls of wisdom. “Love transcends all,” he explained to her at one point. “We have grown apart not because of lack of love. But because of lack of communication,” he wrote another time.

In Libet’s e-mails, she seems to work things out as she writes. The form can’t quite contain her feelings—she uses lots of capital letters. She knows she’s not perfect, she told Lionel. After five divorces, who could think otherwise? She was drinking too much, too, which didn’t help. (Eventually, her worried children staged an intervention and shipped her off to rehab.) “I have some growing up to do,” she confessed. “I have a terrible problem with retreating, so please don’t give up on me. i really love you.” (“Maybe a little ayahuasca is all I need,” she added at one point.)

Lionel loved her, too, though her wealth, and its impositions, stirred resentment. “When no one was around, you could be like yourself,” says Lionel. “But when we were with her friends, from her caliber of life, her social strata, it was a different ball game. Everything was very pristine, very precise. You have to be really uptight, straight, what fork do you eat with.”

Lionel told her, “I’m not one of your Fifth Avenue friends. Don’t expect me to behave like that.”

Statements like that angered Libet. She didn’t see herself as snobby just because she understood the requirements of social life.

If someone sat quietly at a dinner party, she instructed Lionel to go speak to the person. It was her tone that infuriated him. “It wasn’t like, ‘Why don’t you go over?’ It’s an order,” says Lionel.

Libet couldn’t fathom Lionel’s complaints. Why did Lionel feel so … disenfranchised was the word that came to her mind. She wasn’t trying to demean him. Why did he feel that way?

“You were like supporting cast,” Lionel says. “Every guy around her was essentially subservient to her. It was almost insulting to me. I couldn’t be a yes-man when everyone is around. Your manhood, you don’t check it at the door.”

One day, Libet wrote Lionel, “I know you love me, but you don’t like much about me.”

Lionel had started to feel something similar. “You used to laugh at my stupid humor and then you became critical,” he wrote. “I felt you wanted me to be something I am not. Initially you accepted me as I am and then your attitudes toward me started to slowly change. ”

With all their travels—Libet visited Cambodia every other month, and most weeks Lionel flew to one office or another—they weren’t spending much time together. When they were both in town, Lionel often stayed at Libet’s place; Lionel says they lived together, Libet has a different view. Either way, by the summer of 2004, the romantic relationship was all but over—it had lasted just about eighteen months.

Still, Libet assured Lionel that she wanted to be “best friends with you forever.” After all, they had William to think about.

William’s welcome into the Johnson family had, at first, been slightly cool. Before he’d come into their lives, Libet told her children that she wanted to adopt, that there’d come a day when she’d face a big decision, yes or no, in or out. In her heart she’d know the right thing to do. William felt right, at least for Libet. Her kids weren’t so sure. “Part of you feels, Is he taking my place because I’m getting older?” says Annabel. “I’m losing out. There is that fear. You can’t help it.” Soon, though, William won them over.

Lionel’s family took to William, too. His mother, a nurse’s aide from Trinidad who reentered Lionel’s life when he was 13, relished the idea of a grandson. “When someone have a baby, we make a big party,” she says.

William lived a prince’s life. In Vail, he learned to ski. In New York, he has two nannies and attends private school. Though he was not an heir to the Johnson fortune, Libet gave him “some financial security”: a trust fund of $100,000.

The problem for William was his legal status, given the U.S. ban on Cambodian adoption. Lionel had tried to circumvent the ban using his Trinidadian citizenship and his membership in the Native American band, to no avail.

Then in November 2004, Libet mentioned a new plan to Lionel. “I am going to try to adopt William myself,” she wrote casually. “I think this will be the best thing for William and I hope you agree.” She signed off cordially, “Hope everything is going well … Libet.”

She knows she’s not perfect, Libet told Lionel. After five divorces, who could think otherwise? She was drinking too much, too, which didn’t help. “I have some growing up to do,” she confessed. “Please don’t give up on me. I really love you.”

For Lionel, Libet’s suddenly cool e-mails were maddening, as was the notion that she alone knew what was best for William. In response, Lionel was petulant yet resigned. “I will stay out of William’s life … I will no longer call him or come to see him,” Lionel wrote on December 2, 2004. “Good luck with the adoption process … William will always be your son and I will always be a stranger who comes to visit … It is easier for me to stop seeing him now than to be a part-time figure in his life … He is young enough and he will soon forget me.”

Libet responded tenderly, though it’s difficult to miss the pity. “Dearest Lionel,” she wrote, “I am sure there is some happy middle ground here where it doesn’t have to be all or nothing”—with William. “It is up to you.”

A couple of months later, a tragic tone had worked its way into Lionel’s e-mails. “I will do what I always do, walk away,” he wrote dramatically on February 1, 2005. “Let me know what your attorney wants to do and I will do it.” Even as he wrote, though, Lionel roused himself. Libet was bullying him, and that irritated him. “One day he will know I was once in his life and I was forced to abandon him,” he wrote. “In my heart I know he is my son and I will do anything to help him.”

Libet deployed her attorneys—in all, five sets would work on various adoption issues. In a March 14 letter drafted by one of Libet’s attorneys, Lionel told Cambodian authorities that he no longer would adopt William. Seven months later, in October, Cambodian authorities issued Libet an adoption certificate for William.

Later, Lionel is at pains to explain why he seemed to abandon his claim on the child. “It was a low point,” he says. “I was angry.” He says he suffered not seeing William. And soon, he points out, he started visiting again, even helping with parental duties. When Libet flew off to rehab in the fall of 2005, Lionel was there for William—sometimes or often, depending on who’s counting. Libet didn’t mind. “You are welcome to love William,” she told him. Libet, though, defined Lionel’s privileges narrowly—she told Lionel she didn’t want William to call him papa.

Then on December 5 of that year, Libet and Lionel had a fight. The issue seemed inconsequential: Lionel had come by Libet’s apartment to see William and reacted to the smell of William’s dirty diaper. In Libet’s mind Lionel’s reaction was overly dramatic. She recalled him holding his nose, motioning that it stunk.

This is the incident Libet invariably refers to when she thinks of Lionel’s parenting deficiencies. “You are shaming him, and I won’t allow it,” she said. She told Lionel he should celebrate a child’s bowel movements. But he didn’t listen. Libet thought, He never listens.

“What makes you think you know so much about children?” Lionel yelled.

“I’ve raised four children,” she said. “As a single mother, I think my kids have turned out very well.”

“Four fucked-up children,” Lionel said.

Lionel stormed out of the apartment, and Libet barred him from further visits. As far as she was concerned, he’d sent the renunciation letter to Cambodia. That was it, she decided. She cut him out of William’s life, and kept the adoption proceedings secret from him.

If Lionel had once renounced William, he soon told a different story. He’d missed a father’s presence when he was growing up; he didn’t want William to have the same absence. “This child deserves both a mother and father in life” was Lionel’s view now. And so, a couple of months after the fight, on January 26, 2006, and again on March 7, Lionel’s business attorney Richard Farren wrote to Libet. “Lionel is determined to be the father figure in young William’s life,” he wrote. Lionel now opposed any attempt by Libet to adopt without his involvement, he added.

And then Farren wrote this provocative line: “The highest priority should be to create a comfort zone for William so that he is not directly aware of the vast disparity between the wealth of Lionel and the wealth of Elizabeth.” Farren later told Libet’s lawyers that she ought to buy William an apartment, a place where Lionel might live and visit with his son. There was also, said one of Libet’s attorneys, mention of an annual stipend, which Farren denies.

Farren later insisted that it was he who pushed the parity issue, not Lionel. But the damage was done. For Libet, Lionel’s motives came clearly into focus. She learned that Lionel had not only declared bankruptcy in 1999—he listed his assets at less than $50,000—but had tax liens against him. “This man is trying to get money from me,” Libet later told a reporter in court.

Libet ignored Lionel’s letters and rejected any financial settlement. She got her New York adoption approved in April. Her lawyers had decided it wasn’t necessary to tell the court about Lionel.

When Lionel learned of Libet’s adoption, the war of wills (and of lawyers) escalated. Lionel filed papers to overturn Libet’s adoption.

There is a high standard for overturning an adoption, especially when the adoptive parent is a good one. And William’s court-appointed lawyer found that William was perfectly happy in Libet’s home. By contrast, the lawyer was concerned about Lionel. “I continue to be greatly troubled by information that has been brought to my attention,” she wrote, particularly his financial track record and his affection for hallucinogens.

But Judge Kristin Booth Glen—the same judge who’d granted the adoption—took a second look at the case; this time she determined that the case was more complicated than Libet’s attorneys had first asserted. Judge Glen reacted to Libet’s legal maneuverings with thinly veiled contempt. Her attorneys, so artful in the past, now seemed too creative for their own good. There was, for instance, Libet’s bizarre assertion that Lionel had adopted a different William than her William—the “mistaken identity” argument, the judge called it. “We all know this was the [same] child,” the judge said. Libet also claimed that Lionel’s Cambodian adoption documents weren’t valid, though her near-identical documents were. Libet had kept Lionel and William apart for almost two years—then argued that such a lengthy separation would make a reunion traumatic for William. As for the renunciation, the judge gave that no weight since it hadn’t been done in New York, where Libet sought her adoption. Further infuriating the judge was the fact that Libet had hidden from a social worker—and, in effect, the court—her alcohol problem.

“The court believes both parties love and care for William,” the judge wrote in her October 11, 2007, decision. The judge didn’t care who was the better parent; parents don’t have to be perfect. In the end, though, Judge Glen cited Libet’s “substantial, material misrepresentations” and overturned her adoption. The judge devised a Solomonic solution: William would continue to live with Libet, where he’d long been comfortable, while she appeals the decision, but Lionel would be his sole legal parent, with visitation rights.

These days, Lionel sees the battle over William as a kind of class war, in which he pitted his humble character against Libet’s privileged background, and won. “She tried to legally kidnap my son,” he says, which is, more or less, what the judge concluded. Sitting in his office in his usual jeans and a knit shirt, Lionel says, “Everyone else sucked up to her. I didn’t, I couldn’t be suppressed.” And then he shifts, his anger building. Suddenly he addresses Libet, as if continuing his argument with her. “I couldn’t sit back and have you to tell me what to think. It’s not going to happen.”

Lionel, now 46, sees William, who’s now 5, two times a week, visits supervised by a court-appointed psychologist. William refers to Lionel not as papa, but as Lionel, no doubt a frustrating echo of Libet’s restriction. Lionel reminds him, “I brought you home from Cambodia.”

Lionel is also trying to get his life back on track. He’s incurred legal fees of close to $1 million, though he’s petitioned the court to make Libet pay. He’s hustling to make money. Recently, he tested the waters with a mesotherapy training course. “Based on my research,” reads the awkwardly worded announcement, “I developed incredible formulas and techniques of injections which have far surpassed my initial training.”

Lionel’s assistant, Leslie Fischer, helped him design the course. An attractive blonde divorcée, she helps with many things these days. She’s attentive, understanding, just what Lionel’s looking for in a girlfriend, which she now is. Leslie couldn’t be more different from Libet, he says. “She’s been extremely supportive. It’s the best relationship I’ve had in my life. She cares more about me than about herself.”

For her part, Libet has sold off most of her Trump Tower footage, at a loss, apparently. Nowadays, when she thinks about her future, she thinks about motherhood. Mostly, she thinks about William. Her home is emptying of children, and William seems crucial to her happiness, which is, for a rich girl, what there is left to want.

Not so long ago, she’d tried to explain this to Lionel. “You can construct a beautiful loving environment for yourself,” she wrote him. He could have girlfriends, a family if he wanted. “You have more options for real happiness than I do,” she wrote. It was an admission and an appeal, a moment of vulnerability. Lionel didn’t listen. He never listens, Libet thought.

Additional reporting by Kathleen Reeves.

Libet in Love