Decades before he started making headlines in his own right, President Donald Trump's eldest son was a self-confessed hard-partying fraternity brother at the University of Pennsylvania who developed a reputation with women similar to his father's
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Decades before he started making headlines as a First Son with a controversial record of meeting with Russian nationals, President Donald Trump‘s eldest child was a self-confessed hard-partying fraternity brother at the University of Pennsylvania.
There, Donald Trump Jr. was so notorious for his strong interest in women that a friend who went to frat parties with him tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story: “Everyone was warned to stay away from Donnie Trump.”
It’s a warning that reverberates with similarities to the reputation his father built long outside of college.
In October 2016, The Washington Post published a 2005 video that showed Trump, then in his late 50s, bragging about forcing himself on women. “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” the reality-TV star and businessman said in the 2005 conversation. “Grab ’em by the p—y.”
In the months that followed, Trump was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, including PEOPLE writer Natasha Stoynoff, who alleged that Trump attacked her during a 2005 interview at Mar-a-Lago. He has denied all of the allegations.
At his father’s alma mater, the Wharton School at Penn, Don Jr.’s reputation also included getting into “drunken, ‘do-you-have-any-idea-who-I-am?’ fights,” according to a 2004 profile in New York magazine.
“To be fairly candid, I used to drink a lot and party pretty hard,” Don Jr. admitted in the 2004 interview. “And it wasn’t something that I was particularly good at. I mean, I was good at it, but I couldn’t do it in moderation.”
In another account of Don Jr.’s college years, Scott Melker, a former Penn classmate, wrote on Facebook: “Donald Jr. was a drunk in college. Every memory I have of him is of him stumbling around on campus falling over or passing out in public, with his arm in a sling from injuring himself while drinking.”
Regarding his past drinking, a source who worked for the Trump family tells PEOPLE: “‘There is a lot of impulsive behavior in the family.”
After graduating, Don Jr. initially declined to join the family business, instead moving to Aspen, Colorado, where he hunted, fished, camped, lived out of the back of a truck, and bartended, according to Vanity Fair — which also reported that Don Jr. stopped talking to his father during this time.
He returned to the East Coast to join the Trump Organization in 2001, the same year he spent 11 hours in a New Orleans jail on charges of public drunkenness.
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Don Jr. says he’s been sober since 2002. In 2005, he married Vanessa Haydon, a model he’d met through his father and with whom Don Jr. now has five children. Says a source who knows the family well: “He’s a very strong family man, a good solid guy.”
But the couple’s 2004 engagement was not without its own controversy.
Just months after his father proposed to wife Melania with a $1.5 million Graff diamond that he got half-price in return for publicity, Don Jr. followed suit with a publicity-stunt proposal of his own. In exchange for a free $100,000 ring, Trump’s son popped the question to Vanessa in front of cameras at a jewelry store in the Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey.
But the move was denounced in the media — with the New York Post describing Don Jr. as “the cheapest gazillionaire heirhead” — and by his own father.
“I guess he’s trying to learn from me … but I didn’t like it,” Trump said on Larry King Live not long afterward. “He’s a good kid … and I said, ‘You have a name that’s hot as a pistol — you have to be very careful with things like this.’ ”
- Reporting by SARA NATHAN and DAN WAKEFORD