L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who was the world's richest woman, has died at the age of 94. The 14th richest person in the world battled with dementia and family scandal in her later years.
Liliane Bettencourt, the world's richest woman and daughter of L'Oreal founder Eugene Schueller, died in her Paris home Wednesday night. She was 94.
In an email statement, Bettencourt's daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, said her mother "left peacefully."
Bettencourt was the 14th richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine, which estimated her net worth in March at $39.5 billion (€33 billion).
Despite valuing her privacy, Bettencourt was the focus of public attention in her native France for much of her life and was often seen with artists, businessmen, and politicians.
Her prominence faded after failing mental health forced her to leave the L'Oreal board in 2012, but her name continued to make headlines when members of her entourage, including French President Nikolas Sarkozy, were charged with exploiting her mental state.
L'Oreal Chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Agon said he had "great admiration" for Bettencourt and that "she has personally contributed greatly to [the company's] success for many years."
A life of family intrigue
Bettencourt inherited L'Oreal from her father and the company's founder, Eugene Schueller, after his death in 1957. Schueller, a chemist, had started the company in the early 20th century and renamed it "L'Oreal" in 1939.
Over the next 70 years, Bettencourt, who left the running of the company to others, witnessed L'Oreal become one of the richest and most recognizable brands in the cosmetic industry.
Her public visibility was heightened by her marriage to Andre Bettencourt, a government minister under Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yet public opinion was not always positive. Her father's association with pro-Nazi groups and her husband's anti-Semitic writings during the Second World War cast a shadow over her throughout her life.
In the years before her death, a public spat with her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, made headlines around the world.
Bettencourt-Meyers accused several individuals of exploiting her mother's deteriorating mental health, an accusation that at one point included former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. A subsequent probe tried to determine whether he had taken advantage of Bettencourt to fund his 2007 election campaign but was later dropped.
Bettencourt was declared unfit to run her own affairs in 2011 after a medical report showing she had suffered from "mixed dementia" and "moderately severe" Alzheimer's disease since 2006. The court awarded her daughter Bettencourt's estimated wealth of 17 billion euros (20 billion dollars) and 33 percent stake in L'Oreal.
Mother and daughter continued to have troubled relations in later years. Bettencourt told a TV interviewer a few years ago, "My daughter could have waited patiently for my death instead of doing all she can to precipitate it."
amp/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)