Deng! the True Story of Wonder Wendi

By Liu, Melinda; Fish, Isaac Stone et al. | Newsweek, August 8, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Deng! the True Story of Wonder Wendi

Liu, Melinda, Fish, Isaac Stone, Grove, LLoyd, Lee, Chris, Wilkinson, Isabel, Newsweek

To those conditioned to think that a beautiful young woman married to a multibillionaire twice her age could be motivated only by money, Wendi Deng Murdoch--as the world now knows--has offered up a startling riposte.

In an unscripted display of marital fidelity that was, also, the most balletic act of violence on television this year, she clouted a man in the head as he approached her husband with violent intent--and a shaving-cream pie. The scene occurred at the parliamentary hearings on July 19, hearings designed, metaphorically, to knock her husband, Rupert, off his pedestal. Instead, it was a Murdoch who did the knocking down that morning, albeit a Murdoch with rangy legs, lustrous black hair, and cheekbones to die for. With one punch, it could be said, Ms. Murdoch revamped her popular image from "gold digger" to heroine, and fiercely protective wife.

The cameras cut off as she fell to the ground. But the scene didn't end there. An eyewitness saw Wendi back on her feet, grab the pie plate, and shove it right back into the face of her husband's attacker, who later described the "rage" in her eyes. As police dragged him away, she pummeled him with punches, then turned to comfort her husband, tenderly hugging him and wiping foam from his jacket.

The fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg says that, shortly after the incident, she emailed her kudos to Wendi, who "messaged right back to say, 'I should be thankful to have such a good life with so many friends around me.'" Von Furstenberg, who is married to Barry Diller, the chairman of IAC, a parent company of NEWSWEEK, believes Wendi's athletic defense "showed totally who she is. She's fierce, she's a ball of fire, she's a loyal wife. I've watched her grow from someone who was a bit shy to this amazing woman, full of energy. Her spontaneous gesture just said it all." (Echoing these sentiments in the worldly Chinese way, a Beijing netizen enthused: "This adds value to the image of Chinese wives.")

Wendi, 42, has long been the object of fascination, often of a disapproving kind. Shortly after she married Rupert, The Wall Street Journal, in one of the more prurient stories in its mostly staid history, ran a detailed account of her life before Rupert. Employing the Journal's classic deep-dig methods, the story detailed her rise from impecunious obscurity in mainland China to glittering third wife of a mogul.

It was this story, more than any other, that furthered her reputation as a woman on the make, by detailing her befriending of an American couple who helped her to move from Guangzhou to Los Angeles when she was 19. She lived with the couple, sleeping in the room of their 5-year-old daughter and studying at Cal State Northridge. Things turned acrid when the wife discovered that Wendi was having an affair with the husband, 31 years Wendi's senior. They divorced, and Wendi wed the man, Jake Cherry. "I loved that girl," he told The Wall Street Journal. "She told me I was a father concept to her, and it would never be anything else." Before long, they, too, were divorced, but not before Wendi had secured a green card.

The uxorious Rupert reacted to the Journal story with fury, calling the paper to complain. In those days, it was he who was the protective spouse. Wendi, who had gone to Yale to study for an M.B.A. after her divorce and then landed a job at the Asia-based Star TV, owned by News Corp., had met Rupert at a corporate event in Hong Kong in 1997. He was then married to Anna Torv, his serene wife of 30-some years and the mother of his children Elisabeth, 42, Lachlan, 40, and James, 38. It was, Rupert later said in interviews, a whirlwind romance.

Seventeen days after his divorce from the stunned Anna (the settlement reportedly awarded her more than $1 billion), Rupert married Wendi aboard his yacht, the Morning Glory, anchored with a view of the New York skyline. He was 68, she 30. Their two daughters, Grace and Chloe, were born in 2001 and 2003, respectively.

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