NEW YORK (Reuters) - News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch on Thursday filed for divorce from his wife of 14 years, Wendi, seeking to end a marriage that had been irretrievably broken for more than six months, according to his spokesman.
Murdoch, 82, married the former Wendi Deng, 44, in 1999 in his third and her second marriage. They have two young daughters.
The divorce filing, which was sealed, comes just days before News Corp is to split into two companies, one containing its entertainment assets and the other holding its publishing business. Murdoch, who Forbes says is worth $9.4 billion, is to be chairman of both publicly traded companies.
Despite the timing, there is no connection between the divorce and the corporate split, said a source close to News Corp who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Deng could not be reached for comment.
Analysts said the end of the Murdochs’ marriage was unlikely to have an impact on the media empire. Murdoch and Deng had a prenuptial agreement, according to a person familiar with the situation. Their girls, Grace and Chloe, have stakes in the family trust that holds the Murdochs’ stake in News Corp, but they do not have voting rights.
“I doubt it has a substantial impact on the spin,” Gabelli & Co analyst Brett Harriss said, referring to the News Corp separation. “Given that it’s his third wife, I see it unlikely that he didn’t plan for this contingency.”
Ira Garr, an attorney listed as representing Murdoch, said he filed the divorce papers just after 11 a.m. EDT on Thursday. Garr, who previously represented Ivana Trump and actor Anthony Quinn’s wife Yolanda, declined to comment further.
Deng is represented by attorney Pamela Sloan, chair of the Family Law section of the New York State Bar Association. Sloan, a partner of the firm Aronson Mayefsky and Sloan, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Details of the prenuptial agreement were not known and it was not clear who would move out of the Murdochs’ apartment in New York City’s tony Upper East Side.
Murdoch also has four grown children, Prudence from his first marriage, and Lachlan, James and Elisabeth from his second. These four grown children all have voting rights unlike Murdoch’s two children with Deng. The family trust owned 38.4 percent of the voting stock in News Corp as of April 30.
Deng, the daughter of a factory director in Guangzhou, China, came to the United States in 1988 after serving as an interpreter for a Los Angeles couple working in China. The couple sponsored her to live with them, and the husband later left his wife and married Deng.
After their brief marriage, Deng went on to get an MBA from Yale and landed a job at News Corp’s Star TV as an intern in 1996. She met Murdoch in 1998, when she was a junior executive who acted as his interpreter during a business trip to China.
The pair married shortly after Murdoch divorced his wife of 31 years, Anna.
Shortly after they married, Rupert Murdoch said in an interview with Australian magazine The Monthly that his new wife’s job was “as a home decorator,” and that she was not “some business genius about to take over News.”
“She’s intelligent, but she’s not going to do that,” he said.
Her friends were incensed. “She didn’t marry him to sit at home and be a society wife,” one friend told the magazine.
His views may have changed, as Deng told Vogue that “Rupert thinks I have a good head on my shoulders. Whatever I do he is very involved in.”
Indeed, Deng has been involved in her husband’s business in China, putting her Mandarin language skills to use and bridging cultural differences.
When News Corp still owned Myspace, she gave strategic advice to that Internet business in China and pocketed $92,000 in fees in 2010, according to a filing.
But she never had a major role in her husband’s company, unlike Murdoch’s former wife Anna Murdoch, who had a position on News Corp’s board until 1998.
Lately, Deng has pursued her own endeavors such as co-producing the movie “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” a story set in 19th century China about the tough cultural norms imposed on women.
The movie, distributed by News Corp’s Fox Searchlight in 2011, grossed just over $11 million. Deng has since produced another film, “Journey of a Thousand Miles,” based on the memoir of Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
To many people outside the media industry, Deng is best known for defending her husband from a foam pie a prankster threw at the mogul while he was testifying before the British Parliament over News Corp’s phone-hacking scandal in July 2011.
More than halfway through the hearing, Deng suddenly leapt from her seat to intercept the pie with a furious slap, gaining the nickname “tiger wife.”
The divorce is bound to be fodder for tabloid newspapers around the world, though Murdoch’s own New York Post and The Sun did not have their own stories on their websites more than four hours after the news broke.
The Post offered a link to a partner video headlined “Billionaire News Corp Owner Rupert Murdoch Divorcing Wife #3.” Murdoch’s more sedate Times of London had the story near the top of its homepage, with the straightforward “Rupert Murdoch: files for divorce from wife Wendi.”
An early jab came from the media website Gawker, which offered its best parody of a Post headline.
“Loveless Body in Pointless Marriage,” Gawker wrote, using the Post’s typeface imposed over a picture of Murdoch and Deng.
Reporting by Liana B. Baker, Jennifer Saba, Karen Freifeld, Nicola Leske and Ron Grover; Writing by Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Dan Grebler, Edward Tobin and Ryan Woo