After Aaron: Dynasty in Distress
The death of producer Aaron Spelling casts a spotlight on a nasty feud: the battle between his widow, Candy, and her daughter Tori
Two weeks before her father, Aaron, died, Tori Spelling paid what would be her final visit to the prolific producer of such glitzy hits as The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Beverly Hills, 90210 (in which the daughter he famously doted on costarred as virginal Donna). She brought along her husband of five weeks, Canadian actor Dean McDermott. “It was the best day, having my dad meet the love of my life,” says Tori. “My dad gave me a big kiss on the lips and we said we loved each other. In the end he hugged Dean and said, ‘Take care of my baby.’ It was a moment I’ll cherish forever.”
Their reunion, taking place in the ornate, 123-room L.A. mansion that Spelling shared with Candy, 60, his wife of 38 years, marked the end of a 9-month rift between father and daughter, during which neither one saw or spoke to the other. Yet Spelling’s death at 83 on June 23 of complications from a stroke he had suffered five days earlier only intensified the rancorous feud dividing one of Hollywood’s wealthiest families. The bad blood between Tori and Candy, flowing like some convoluted plotline out of Spelling’s Dynasty, arises from, among other things, Candy’s relationship with an old family friend and Tori’s creation of a satiric sitcom that her mother believes holds her up to ridicule. And last week the absence of Spelling’s daughter from his deathbed—why depends on whom you ask—only served to reopen old wounds.
First, there’s that Other Man. Tori refuses even to name him. “It’s sad that an outside party wedged this close family apart,” is all she’ll say. “I just couldn’t watch it happen anymore. It broke my heart.” It’s clear she’s talking about Mark Nathanson, 66, a Beverly Hills real-estate broker and longtime friend who introduced Aaron to Candy.
Candy “became more dependent on Mark Nathanson,” says a source close to Tori, as Aaron’s health began deteriorating. (He waged a successful battle against throat cancer in 2001, but son Randy, 27, says his father recently suffered from dementia; Alzheimer’s is listed as a contributing factor on Spelling’s death certificate.) “They would travel to the Spellings’ Malibu house for weekends,” says another source.
Kevin Sasaki, a Spelling family spokesman, says that Aaron approved Nathanson’s squiring his wife and denies the two were anything more than just friends. “Mark has lent support to Candy,” says Sasaki. “He has been incredible in helping keep everything together.”
And Nathanson himself vehemently contends that Tori has only herself to blame for the rift with her father. “Tori literally broke her father’s heart,” he says. “He’d call, asking her to please return his calls. She never did. And Tori was the light of his life.”
A source close to Tori says she tried repeatedly to reach her father, but she could never get past his phalanx of assistants. And, Tori adds, “I no longer felt welcome at the house because of my mother.” (Retorts Nathanson: “Well, her mother doesn’t stay home 24 hours a day. And, until very recently, Aaron had been going to his office. Tori knows that.”) The final straw for Candy appears to have been So NoTORIous, the autobiographical sitcom spoof (now airing on VH-1) that Tori produced and stars in as a ditzy version of herself. Her TV mom, played by Loni Anderson, comes off as a shrill shopaholic addicted to eBay. Though Tori has insisted that the character bears no resemblance to her real mother, for Candy the portrayal hit too close to home. “She was very upset about the show,” says a source close to the Spellings.
It took brother Randy, who once costarred on his father’s soap Sunset Beach, to bring Tori and her dad back together on June 11. “Randy has always been one to keep the peace,” says Sasaki. “It was him saying, ‘Let’s just drop this.'”
When Aaron died, Tori was on location in Toronto, and how she found out is another point of bitter contention. Aaron had taken a sudden turn for the worse that day before Tori could return home, and Sasaki says that Tori and Randy (who had gone down to Miami to shoot a segment of an A&E reality series) were “in constant communication.” But Tori says she first learned her father had passed away “when a friend who had heard on the news” e-mailed her Blackberry. “I was devastated. I thought I had some time to see him. And I was saddened that the news had not come from my mother.”
At a private interment for Spelling on June 25, Tori and McDermott joined her brother, mother and 30 other close relatives and friends. Even there, Tori was hurt that her mother invited her and Dean to go to the funeral and back to the family home afterward. “Tori couldn’t believe she needed an invitation at a time like this,” says her friend. “But Tori did go up to her mother and hug her and thank her for the invite out of respect for her father.”
How long the Spellings’ cold war will rage on, nobody in Hollywood can say. (Next step: dividing Aaron’s enormous fortune. Both Tori and the family spokesman say they have no idea about the provisions of Spelling’s estate.) “As unbelievably hard as this is, I’m so blessed to have had 33 years with my dad, who was the kindest, most loving man in this world,” says Tori. “I’m just grateful he’s in a better, happier place now.”