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The Perils of Patricia : It's Not Easy Being the Ex-Wife of the Richest Man in America

November 18, 1990|BILL THOMAS | Bill Thomas is co-author of "Lawyers and Thieves" (Simon and Schuster, 1990), a humorous look at the legal profession.

IN SUMMER, the rolling hills outside Charlottesville, Va., take on the deep green hue of new money, a convenient reminder of who owns them. Nature imitates net worth in this part of the country, and historic estates have names that sound like they're expensive brands of bourbon, such as Ash Lawn, Willow Brook and Tall Oaks. Charlottesville is in Albemarle County, which is reputed to be the home of more millionaires per square mile than any other part of the United States, including media mogul John Kluge, the richest man in America.

Now there's a new millionaire in the neighborhood--Kluge's ex-wife. With her nine-year marriage to the man with a net worth of $5.6 billion all but officially over, Patricia Kluge, 41, is reportedly receiving one of the largest divorce settlements in American history. The exact amount has not been disclosed, and some sources put it at a mere $1 million a year. But the more generally reported amount is the annual interest on $1 billion worth of investments and property for life, meted out in $1.6 million-a-week installments.

She also got the 45-room house, Albemarle Farm; John has moved into a separate home on the estate's 10,000-acre spread. From a distance, Albemarle Farm looks like a neo-Georgian theme park painted against the Blue Ridge Mountains. At one end of the vast expanse of front acreage, workers are busy laying sod and harvesting alfalfa. At the other end, swans are floating peacefully in a mock-English country lake. Below the brick mansion, completed just two years ago, a foursome of off-duty farm hands plays golf. Hedges are trimmed with geometric precision, roads wind around trees in perfect curves, and everywhere new concrete belies the ye-olde aspirations of the overall design.

It is ostentatious even by the standards of this upper-class pocket of tweed 120 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Charlottesville, a quaint university town that has dual devotions to scholarly learning and movie deals, has been called an 18th-Century Malibu. Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange are the Kluges' nearest neighbors. Muhammad Ali, Martina Navratilova and writer Ann Beattie aren't far away. Sissy Spacek moved in a few years ago. Steven Soderbergh, director of "sex, lies and videotape," arrived last year.

Charlottesville is rustic, rich and rife with rumors, most of which concern Patricia Kluge, the town's most talked-about resident celebrity since Thomas Jefferson. Everyone wants to know what the future holds for the woman who, at 32, with an already titillating past, married a man 33 years older and six inches shorter than she.

Asked about the divorce at a recent gala AIDS benefit in Washington, Kluge demurred. "I don't know if it would be appropriate now," she said, fingering a strand of grape-sized pearls. "I just don't know if I should," she added in a voice that indicated her lawyers would be upset if she talked to a reporter about it.

A lot of the whispering these days is about Kluge's relationship with Virginia's bachelor governor, L. Douglas Wilder. In 1989, the Kluges contributed $200,000 to Wilder's campaign and raised $500,000 more from friends. After Wilder took office, he named Patricia, a high school dropout, to the University of Virginia's board of visitors. In March, a month before her separation became public, she accompanied Wilder to Los Angeles, where they promoted the Virginia Festival of American Film. Since then, stories abound that she and America's first elected black governor are having a romance. On at least one occasion, Wilder used a state helicopter to visit her in Charlottesville. There are rumors about their trips to Nantucket, the eastern shore of Virginia and other vacation spots, but both claim that their relationship is purely political. "We're friends, only friends," says Wilder, who increasingly is being discussed as national-ticket material.

Charlottesville has always been more Patricia Kluge's town than her husband's. After all, it was her semi-sordid past that brought the couple here in the first place. In late 1985, just as the Kluges were about to host a Palm Beach bash for Prince Charles and Princess Diana, British gossip columnist Nigel Dempster revealed that Kluge had been a sex-advice columnist and had done full-frontal poses for Knave, a British skin magazine. The Kluges, married for four years at the time, canceled the party and moved to Virginia.

Her critics, of whom there are many, suggest that she courts Charlottesville's Hollywood crowd only because she got the cold shoulder from British royalty. She has a different explanation.

"I have a great regard for films," says the woman who appeared in "The Nine Ages of Nakedness," an English soft-core flick, 20 years ago. She really cares about "films as art," she says, cares so much that three years ago, she started the Virginia film festival, which has brought the likes of Nick Nolte, David Brown and John Sayles to her mansion.

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