Rupert Murdoch Ex Wendi Deng: The Woman Behind Media's Biggest Divorce

Murdoch and Deng, in happier times. Photo: Getty Images/David LivingstonMedia reports about Wendi Deng—Rupert Murdoch’s wife of 14 years, from whom he filed for divorce this week—have offered sparse details about the brilliant and glamorous 44-year-old’s life. But many have portrayed her as a gold digger and husband stealer who slept her way to the top, faulting her both for being an independent businesswoman and someone who has relied on her husband’s connections.

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“It’s as if she’s in a no-win situation,” Gloria Allred, the high-profile civil-rights attorney and defender of women’s rights, told Yahoo! Shine. “The press wants to speculate, and they will speculate at the expense of the less powerful person in the relationship,” she said. “And that is almost always the woman.”

There have been both gender and ethnic stereotypes in Deng’s portrayals, damning her for everything from hobnobbing with Hollywood to being concerned with the financial interests of her children. Meanwhile, Allred said, “When you look at the coverage of Rupert Murdoch, it’s very gentle and cautious and generous. I think he gets the Teflon treatment, for the most part, which may be out of fear of him.”

Filling out Deng’s story with sexist tropes, she added, may simply be because there’s not been a lot of information to work with, “and nature abhors a vacuum.”

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Calls to attorneys for both Murdoch and Deng by Yahoo! Shine on Friday were not returned.

So what is the real story behind Deng, who, in recent years, has become an aspiring film producer? The mother of two girls is best known for fiercely slapping at a protester who attempted to smash a cream pie into Murdoch’s face during his scandalous phone hacking parliamentary hearings in the U.K. in 2011, which earned her another stereotype-based title: tiger wife. And more are sure to come, as she stands to gain a lot in the divorce: The 82-year-old Murdoch's net worth is $12.3 billion (though the couple's pre-nuptial agreement does not grant Deng any voting shares at News Corp., according to the Wrap).

Still, there’s more to her tale. Below, the key gems from the handful of profiles that have been written about Murdoch's third wife:

She’s gone from rags to riches. Deng, the daughter of a struggling factory engineer and one of four children, grew up in China, in the small rural town of Xuzhou, with no hot water. In a 2011 Vogue profile, she told Fiona Golfar, “My parents pushed us very hard to work, both in the home doing chores and cooking, and at school. They were very strict. Much stricter than Tiger Mom.” She added, “In the summer when everyone else was on vacation I had to study the whole textbook for next year so I would be ahead in class.” They pushed her to go to medical school in Guangzhou in 1985, but she dropped out halfway through to pursue her dream of finding success in America.

She was determined to find a way here, and did. After med school, she met Americans Jake and Joyce Cherry and their children; Joyce taught her English. When the family returned to the U.S. they agreed to sponsor her to attend California State University and she moved in with them in Los Angeles. Deng wound up having an affair with Jake and the Cherrys split; she married Jake and they stayed married for about two years. Deng got a green card.

She’s got academic chops. In addition to her medical schooling and California classes, Deng, whose first language is Mandarin, earned an MBA from Yale, where she now sits on the board of advisers at its School of Management.

She landed an internship at a Murdoch holding and ran with it. After meeting her future husband at a cocktail party, Deng went on to work as an intern in Hong Kong at Star Television, a satellite service he bought in 1993. The two married in 1999 aboard his yacht the Morning Glory, just 17 days after his divorce from second wife Anna, whom he was with for 31 years. Anna, since remarried, told Australian Women's Weekly, “Rupert's affair with Wendi Deng—it's not an original plot—was the end of the marriage. I thought we had a wonderful happy marriage. Obviously we didn't.” (Well, maybe Deng does have a thing for other people's husbands after all.) Murdoch reportedly paid Anna a record $1.7 billion divorce settlement.

She coproduced a movie. A cofounder of Big Foot Productions with business partner Florence Sloan, she coproduced “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” directed by Wane Wang and costarring Deng’s friend Hugh Jackman, in 2011. The film, set in a small Chinese village in the 19th century, explored the secret language used by women in letters to express their true feelings (laotong) and was personal to Deng, she told Vogue. “My grandmother died in childbirth and my great aunt lived with us. She had bound feet,” she said. “She never knew how to read or write. And this story is very much at the heart [of the film].” She’s also the founder of Art.sy, a digital art project, with friend Dasha Zhukova

Her social circle does include various A-listers. According to a 2012 New York Times profile, Deng’s independent career has led to friendships with Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Tony Blair (all of whom are godparents to her two girls, according to “Vogue”), as well as David Geffen, Larry Ellison, Bono and Larry Page.

She’s athletic. Perhaps explaining her powerful lunge at Murdoch’s would-be pie attacker, the teenage Deng was an “enthusiastic volleyball player, adept enough to become a member of the junior city team,” according to a 2011 Daily Beast profile.

She preferred NYC's chic Soho to its Upper East Side. When they moved to their $44 million Fifth Avenue townhouse from a 9,300-square-foot Soho apartment in 2005, she told the New York Times, "I love downtown. It is casual and my children have all kinds of friends here." It was there that the couple entertained famous folks from Russell Crowe to Ariel Sharon.

She feels protective about her kids’ financial interests. In 2006, Deng reportedly (and understandably) hit the roof when Murdoch declared in a TV interview with Charlie Rose that their daughters Grace and Chloe would not have the same voting rights in the family’s trust as his children from previous marriages.

She can be mean and demanding, according to a former nanny.
Ying-Shu Hsu, a former tutor and childcare worker for the couple's children, sued the Murdochs unsuccessfully for damages in 2007, and came out with a slew of unflattering claims about Deng’s mothering style—claiming she had tantrums, offered no benefits, shamed her girls about their bodies and was uncaring with staffers. A statement released through a publicist dismissed Hsu as “a disgruntled former employee” and called her accusations “unfounded and untrue.” 

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