Doris Duke Biography


Birthday: November 22, 1912 (Sagittarius)

Born In: New York, New York, United States

Doris Duke was an American billionaire socialite and philanthropist, who was also the only child of James Buchanan Duke, a tobacco tycoon. She worked as a news correspondent for a short while and also traveled extensively. She preserved more than 80 heritage buildings in Newport and created one of America’s biggest indoor horticultural gardens. In spite of being married and divorced twice and having scores of affairs, she preferred to remain away from the media spotlight. She is known for her philanthropy, including her contribution to child welfare and AIDS research. Following her death, most of her wealth was left to charities working for children, animals, ecology, and arts.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 80


Spouse/Ex-: James H. R. Cromwell (m. 1935–1943), Porfirio Rubirosa (m. 1947–1951)

father: James Buchanan Duke

mother: Nanaline Inman

children: Arden Cromwell, Charlene Gail Heffner

Born Country: United States

Philanthropists Socialites

Died on: October 28, 1993

place of death: Beverly Hills, California, United States

Cause of Death: Pulmonary Edema

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

awards: Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame Women Inductees

Childhood & Early Life
Doris Duke was born in New York City, on November 22, 1912. She was the only child of tobacco and hydroelectric power baron James Buchanan Duke and Nanaline Holt Inman, his second wife. Nanaline was earlier married to William Patterson Inman.
Following Duke’s birth, the media termed her "the richest little girl in the world." However, Duke later grew up to be a publicity-shy person.
The Duke family had made a huge fortune from the tobacco fields of North Carolina. Washington Duke, Duke’s grandfather, had formed a cartel with local farmers toward the end of the Civil War. After Washington’s death, his fortune was inherited by his son, James, who established the ‘American Tobacco Company’ in 1890. ‘Trinity College’ in Durham, North Carolina, was named ‘Duke University’ after James donated $40 million to the institute.
In 1925, James was struck by pneumonia. He died in October that year. A week later, it came to light that he had left the majority of his fortune to his 12-year-old daughter, Doris Duke.
Duke grew up at ‘Duke Farms,’ her father's massive estate in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey. An ambiguity in James Duke's will prevented any auction or sale of his real estate.
Duke’s mother inherited an insignificant trust fund. This affected Duke’s relationship with her mother. She sued her mother when she was 14, in order to prevent her from selling their family assets.
When Duke wished to attend college, her mother did not allow it. Nanaline decided to take her daughter on a grand European tour instead.
At 18, in 1930, Duke was presented as a debutante, at a ball at ‘Rough Point,’ their family home in Newport, Rhode Island.
Her mother died in 1962.
Continue Reading Below
Her Extravagant Life as an Adult
As soon as she stepped into adulthood, she began investing her fortunes in world travel and the arts. During World War II, she worked at a sailor canteen in Egypt. She was fluent in French.
In 1945, Duke started a brief career as a foreign correspondent for the ‘International News Service.’ She reported from various cities across the war-affected Europe. Following the war, she moved to Paris and wrote for ‘Harper's Bazaar,’ the popular American fashion magazine.
She also lived in Hawaii for a while and became the first non-Hawaiian woman to participate in competitive surfing, under the mentorship of Olympic swimmer and surfing champion Duke Kahanamoku and his brothers.
She was an avid animal lover and had pet dogs and camels. Duke later became a wildlife refuge supporter.
She was also interested in horticulture. This led her to come in touch with ‘Pulitzer Prize’-winning author and scientific farmer Louis Bromfield. Bromfield managed ‘Malabar Farm,’ his country home in Lucas, Ohio. The farm later became part of the ‘Malabar Farm State Park,’ as a result of a healthy donation by Duke. A section of the farm is dedicated to her and has been named after her.
Duke established ‘Duke Gardens’ at the age of 46. It was a garden for the general public, in honor of her father. She designed the architectural elements of the displays, based on what she had seen in her international tours.
Duke was also proficient in playing the piano. She was fond of jazz and had many jazz musician friends. She liked gospel music, too, and sang as part of a gospel choir.
In 1966, Duke was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of designer Eduardo Tirella. While it was treated as a freak accident, Tirella's family sued Duke and won US$75,000.
Duke formed the ‘Independent Aid, Inc.’ her first philanthropic venture, in 1934, at 21.
Continue Reading Below
She established the ‘Duke Gardens Foundation’ to support the public-display gardens she had begun to create at ‘Duke Farms.’
She also formed the ‘Newport Restoration Foundation’ in 1968, aimed at the preservation of over 80 colonial establishments in the town, such as ‘Rough Point,’ the ‘Samuel Whitehorne House,’ the ‘King's Arms Tavern,’ and the ‘Prescott Farm.’ Five of them have been converted to museums, while 71 have been rented out to tenants. Duke also funded the construction of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's “ashram” in India, which ‘The Beatles’ visited in 1968.
As a result of her extensive world travel, she owned a collection of Islamic and Southeast Asian art. Following her death, such pieces were donated to the ‘Walters Art Museum’ in Baltimore and ‘The Asian Art Museum’ of San Francisco.
Duke also funded medical research and child welfare projects. Toward the late 1980s, she donated US$2 million to ‘Duke University,’ as funding for AIDS research. Her foundation ‘Independent Aid’ later became the ‘Doris Duke Foundation’ and continues to exist as a private entity. Following her death, the ‘Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’ was set up in 1996, funding four national grant-making programs and Duke's estates, ‘Shangri La,’ ‘Rough Point,’ and ‘Duke Farms.’
Family & Personal Life
Duke had married twice. In 1935, she got married to James H. R. Cromwell, who was the son of Palm Beach socialite Eva Stotesbury.
In 1940, Cromwell served as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada and ran unsuccessfully for the ‘U.S. Senate.’ They had a daughter named Arden, who died a day after her birth. The couple divorced in 1943.
Duke got married to Porfirio Rubirosa, a diplomat from the Dominican Republic, on September 1, 1947, in Paris. She was his third wife. It is believed she had paid his second wife, actor Danielle Darrieux, $1 million for a mutual divorce.
Due to political tension, Rubirosa had to sign a pre-nuptial agreement. Duke showered Rubirosa with gifts such as sports cars and a converted B-25 bomber. They divorced in 1951. As part of their divorce settlement, he received a 17th-century house in Paris.
Duke had countless affairs, including those with Duke Kahanamoku, Errol Flynn, General George S. Patton, Alec Cunningham-Reid, Louis Bromfield, and Joe Castro. Duke and Brazilian socialite Aimée de Heeren were close friends. However, she avoided publicity.
Continue Reading Below
In 1993, a day after returning home following a knee surgery, she suffered a stroke. On October 28, 1993, at 80, she died of progressive pulmonary edema due to a cardiac arrest, all alone, at the ‘Falcon Lair.’
Duke was cremated, and her ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean by her butler, Bernard Lafferty, according to her will. She had left her fortune worth $1.2 billion to Lafferty.
Her last living heirs are twins Walker “Patterson” Inman III and Georgia Inman, the children of Duke’s nephew, Walker Inman Jr.
Her Property and the Controversy over Her Will
Duke owned several homes. She mostly stayed at ‘Duke Farms,’ her father's New Jersey estate spanning more than 2,000 acres. This was the site of the famed ‘Duke Gardens.’
She had a number of other residences. She spent her summers at the ‘Rough Point’ mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. In the winters, she was found at ‘Shangri La,’ her estate in Hawaii, and at ‘Falcon Lair,’ in Beverly Hills, California.
She had two apartments in Manhattan. She had her own ‘Boeing 737’ jet and restructured its interiors. The plane was used in her countless tours and had a bedroom.
Duke was made the life beneficiary of two trusts of her father, created in 1917 and 1924, respectively. The income from those trusts was to be paid to any children, following her death. In 1988, at 75, Duke adopted a woman named Chandi Heffner. Heffner was a 35-year-old Hare Krishna devotee and the sister of the third wife of American billionaire Nelson Peltz. Duke believed that Heffner was the reincarnation of her daughter, Arden, who had died in 1940, soon after birth.
However, Duke's final will stated that she did not want Heffner to gain from her father's trusts. Heffner sued the trustees, and the suit was settled later.
Duke had left her fortunes to various charitable foundations and had appointed Lafferty as the executor of her estate. Later, Lafferty and Duke's friend Marion Oates Charles became her trustees.
However, several lawsuits were filed against the will, the notable of them being those filed by Harry Demopoulos and ‘Duke University.’
Tammy Payette, a nurse, stated that Lafferty and Dr. Charles Kivowitz had hastened Duke’s death with morphine. However, such charges were not proved.
The courts eventually removed Lafferty for use of the estate funds for his personal purposes. Currently, her trustees have control over the ‘Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.’
The foundation also controls the funds for the ‘Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art,’ ‘Duke Farms,’ and the ‘Newport Restoration Foundation.’
Some of her biographies are Stephanie Mansfield's ‘The Richest Girl in The World’ (1994), Too Rich: The Family Secrets of Doris Duke’ (1996) by Pony Duke and Jason Thomas, and ‘Trust No One’ (1997) by Ted Schwarz and Tom Rybak.
The 4-hour TV miniseries ‘Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke’ (1999), based on Mansfield's book, starred Lauren Bacall as Duke.
The 2006 ‘HBO’ film ‘Bernard and Doris,’ which starred Susan Sarandon as Duke, was based on her life.

See the events in life of Doris Duke in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Doris Duke Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Kylie Jenner Biography
Kylie Jenner
Bill Gates Biography
Bill Gates
Bill Ackman Biography
Bill Ackman
Warren Buffett Biography
Warren Buffett
Paris Hilton Biography
Paris Hilton
Kendall Jenner Biography
Kendall Jenner
Isabella Rossellini Biography
Isabella Rossellini
Kourtney Kardashian Biography
Kourtney Kardashian

Also Listed In