Death Trumps Ivana, a True Tabloid Queen (1949-2022)
Updated: 6 days ago
By Laurence Lerman / New York City
In their time, Ivana and The Donald, as she dubbed him, were the best show in town. The NYC tabloids followed their every gaudy move; the two were regular fixtures in gossip columns, society pages, premiere and party round-ups in the 1980s and 1990s. Ivana was unceremoniously knocked off of her throne in 1992 when the future ex-president ostentatiously took off with another woman.
But Ivana was a one-name celebrity in her day, sharing the excess and glitz that the Trumps became famous (infamous?) for. Czech-born, she was a businesswoman, a media personality, an author, a model and a skier who joined her homeland’s junior national ski team back in the 1960s.
Ivana died on Thursday, July 14, at the age of 73. It was reported by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office that her death was due to blunt impact injuries to her torso she sustained after she had fallen down the stairs of her home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The office ruled it an accidental death.
Ivana Marie Zelníčková married billionaire New York City real estate developer Donald Trump in 1977 (she had met him a year earlier when she was in NYC with a group of models) and they were immediately embraced by the city’s media machine, led by venerable daily tabs the New York Post and the Daily News.
It was on the front pages and headlines of the tabs that New Yorkers and the rest of the country got to know Ivana and her husband, along with the glamourous, extravagant, borderline-ridiculous and oh-so-tabloidish lives they led as a Manhattan power couple.
Like most high-flying media figures—and super-rich people—we only “know” them from what’s reported. And, in the case of the Trumps, it was parties, dinners, openings nights and Ivana’s glittering jewels and designer dresses. It was high society, all right, just a lot more flamboyant than, say, the Rockefellers. And, for both their parts, Ivana and Donald sure seemed to love being photographed and written about.
The media frenzy around the pair kicked into overdrive a decade or so later, when the tabs got wind of trouble in the Trump marriage. Rumors (eventually confirmed) had it that Donald was engaged in an extramarital affair with a woman named Marla Maples.
Maples’ relationship with The Donald, and Ivana and Donald’s subsequent struggles, separation, arguments over prenuptial agreements (there were four of them negotiated over the years) and divorce, were covered almost daily during this period, as was Donald’s subsequent public romance and marriage to Maples. Through it all, platinum with a ‘do piled high on her head and oversized earrings dangling to her shoulders, Ivana continuing to strike all the right poses in her pics (be they black-and-white or, if it was Us Weekly or People, in living color).
Every aspect of the couple’s coming apart served as a chapter in the serialized tale. Even the Trumps’ retaining of their powerhouse divorce attorneys was news at a time when choosing divorce lawyers wasn’t necessarily considered to be legitimate news. (Ivana went with Robert Cohen, who later went on to represent Maples in her divorce from Donald, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and, more recently, Melinda Gates; Donald was repped by Jay Goldberg, who later wrote about the experiences in his 2018 book The Courtroom Is My Theater.)
Even after her divorce from Trump was finalized in March, 1992 on the grounds of “cruel and inhumane treatment by Donald,” Ivana’s image still popped up regularly in the tabs, be it at a charity function at the MET or a dinner at the Central Park boathouse. Though the past 30 years found Ivana developing her own lines of clothing, jewelery and beauty products for the Home Shopping Network, penning an advice column for the supermarket tabloid Globe and authoring several books, it was her actual presence on the scene that garnered the attention.
Her subsequent marriages to Italian businessman Riccardo Mazzucchelli and, later, to Italian actor Rossano Rubicondi, didn’t receive all that much coverage on these shores. (Both marriages ended in divorce, with the latter one lasting less than a year.)
Ivana’s post-divorce relationship with Donald—with whom she shares three now-adult children–Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric–who are newsmakers in their own right—appeared to be a respectful and practical association. One substantial wrinkle came in 2015 when the Daily Beast published a eyebrow-raising story claiming that in a sworn divorce deposition by Ivana from 1990, she stated that her husband had raped her in a fit of rage in 1989. It’s an allegation Trump denied, and Ivana quickly reconfigured her claims, saying that the story was “totally without merit” and that the violation was not “to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”
Still, the story was colorful enough to make the papers.
But it was already 2015, past her time in the spotlight. Ivana didn’t make the front page, a place where her ex-husband would continue to show up with disturbing regularity.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.