Notable Deaths

December 07, 2008


American heiress

Martha von Bulow, the American heiress who was first married to an Austrian playboy prince and then to a Danish-born man who was twice tried on charges of attempting to murder her, died yesterday at a nursing home in Manhattan. Mrs. von Bulow, who was known as Sunny, had been in a coma for nearly 28 years.

Mrs. von Bulow's death came almost 28 years after she was found unconscious on the floor of her bathroom in her mansion in Newport, R.I., on Dec. 21, 1980.

Her second husband, Claus von Bulow, was convicted and later acquitted of twice trying to kill her with injections of insulin so as to aggravate her hypoglycemia, low blood sugar.

His trials were among the most sensational of the 1980s. The news media from around the world were drawn to the drama of the beautiful heiress who lay in a twilight zone, the debonair husband accused of murder, two royal children pitted against their younger stepsister and the glittering social milieus of Newport and New York providing the backdrop.

Hollywood, too, could not resist. The trials became the subject of the 1990 motion picture Reversal of Fortune with Glenn Close as Mrs. von Bulow and Jeremy Irons as Claus von Bulow. The film was based on a book by Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who had been Claus von Bulow's lawyer during his appeal.

In his first trial, Claus von Bulow was found guilty of twice trying to kill his wife and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He appealed, and the conviction was overturned.

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