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Billionaire divorces of the century

What makes billionaires so fascinating? takes a look at the billionaire divorces of the century.
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Recently, Ron Perelman's boardroom deals have taken a backseat to his turbulent private life.Paul Hawthorne / Getty Images file
/ Source: Forbes

Corporate raider Ronald Perelman became rich (estimated net worth: $6 billion) and famous for his corporate deal making, starting with his takeover of Revlon and, more recently, for winning a high-profile suit last year against Morgan Stanley, in which a Florida jury ordered the investment bank to pay Perelman's firm $1.6 billion (see "Don't Mess With Me").

But recently his boardroom deals have taken a backseat to his turbulent private life, as Perelman's marriage to glamorous actress Ellen Barkin (his fourth) heads toward divorce.

Perelman is no stranger to ugly marital endings. His first marriage to heiress Faith Golding lasted 19 years. His second to former gossip-columnist Claudia Cohen lasted nine years.

But it was his three-year union to socialite and big-time democratic supporter Patricia Duff — and the long custody battle that followed — that captured much of America's imagination. Perelman told Forbes last year that he still winces from the fallout over the divorce. He was pilloried for testifying that a child could be fed on $3 per day, and he was accused of abuse. But it was Duff, who sought millions of dollars in annual child support for their then three-year-old daughter and ended up getting much less, who lost the custody battle. Undoubtedly influenced by her experience, Duff has now taken on judicial reform, co-founding the Coalition for Judicial Justice and founding Families for Justice.

Meanwhile, Perelman quickly remarried in 2000 — this time to Barkin — with great expectations that the fourth time would be the charm. But now his latest marriage has hit the rocks, and a divorce is in the works. While details of the couple's prenuptial agreement are confidential, it appears that Barkin was due to get more money the longer she stayed married. Speculation is that Perelman will try to cap her payment at $20 million. There's no doubt Perelman is a man who takes his prenuptials very seriously: He refused to attend the wedding of his eldest son, Josh, because the bride didn't sign a prenup.

If he ends up paying Barkin just $20 million, the 34th-richest American would have spent less than $200 million — not even 4 percent of his net worth — in divorce settlements with his four wives. That really would cement his reputation as one of America's best dealmakers.

Perelman is by no means the only billionaire to make headlines for his divorcing ways. Billionaire investor Ronald Burkle (estimated net worth: $2.3 billion) has also been in the news. His ex-wife Janet accused her husband, who controls Pathmark Stores and Wild Oats Markets, of hiding assets, when she agreed to a reported $30 million settlement in 1997. According to Ron's spokesperson, she's been appealing the settlement unsuccessfully for years. What's really garnered attention, though, has been a related privacy issue. After his social security number was made public, Burkle successfully sought to seal or redact certain information, citing the threat of identity theft, stalking and kidnapping. Legislation was then passed allowing such information to remain private. Janet Burkle, with support of major media outlets, fought for certain financial information to be made public. Just last week, a state appeals court ruled that the First Amendment provides a right of access to court records in divorce proceedings, and that the recently enacted state law is unconstitutional.

Additional reporting by Matt Miller.