The famed "Queen of Mean" hotelier succumbed to heart failure

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated August 20, 2007 11:10 AM

Hotel mogul Leona Helmsley, who earned the nickname the “Queen of Mean” for the high-handed way she treated employees, died Monday of heart failure at her summer home in Greenwich, Conn., said her publicist. She was 87.

Having married real-estate magnet Harry Helmsley in 1972, the former Leona Mindy Rosenthal of Brooklyn helped him run his $5 billion in holdings, which included the Empire State Building.

Among the couple’s private properties were their nine-room penthouse with a swimming pool overlooking Central Park atop their own Park Lane Hotel; the estate in Connecticut (said to be worth $8 million); a condo in Palm Beach; and a mountaintop hideaway near Phoenix, the Associated Press reports.

But it was her 1989 trial for tax evasion – and her pronouncement that “only little people pay taxes” – that made her a household name, and even prompted a 1990 TV movie about her, in which actress Suzanne Pleshette portrayed the unsympathetic real-estate entrepreneur.

Though Helmsley denied she ever made the “little people” statement, the phrase haunted her the rest of her life.

When her husband Harry died in 1997 at age 87, Leona Helmsley said in a statement: “My fairy tale is over. I lived a magical life with Harry.” In recent years she all but faded from the social scene.

Earlier this year, Forbes magazine ranked her as the 369th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion.

According to The New York Times, she is survived by her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, and his wife Susan; four grandchildren, David Panzirer, Craig Panzirer, Walter Panzirer and Megan Wesolko; and 12 great-grandchildren.