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She was born Deng Wen Ge in China, in 1968, to college-educated engineer parents in an upper-middle-class household. As detailed in an infamous Wall Street Journal profile from 2000, Wendi Deng later immigrated to the U.S. in 1987 with the help of a couple from La Crescenta, Calif. — Jake and Joyce Cherry. Jake was building a factory in China at the time, and his wife taught Wendi, who was then studying toward a medical degree, how to speak English. The couple eventually sponsored a student visa application for the 19-year-old Deng, and she lived with them in their home, sharing a bunk bed with their 5-year-old daughter.
But all was not right with the arrangement, Joyce suspected, especially after she found “a cache of photographs her husband had taken of Miss Deng in coquettish poses in his hotel room in Guangzhou,” as the New York Times put it. Jake later admitted he had become infatuated with the young foreign exchange student, who had begun to offer “recommendations” on things like diet and wardrobe.
Within months, Jake and Wendi were living together in a small apartment near Cal State Northridge, where Deng was enrolled. The Cherrys divorced, and Jake and Wendi married in 1990. That marriage lasted less than three years. Upon ending it, Wendi admitted that she could never see Jake, 30 years her senior, as anything more than a father figure. She sought no financial gain in the divorce proceedings.
Rupert Murdoch first met Wendi in 1998. He was 67 and a billionaire media tycoon; she was 29, an intern at a Hong Kong-based satellite company he owned. According to a 2005 New York magazine profile of Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s third-born, Wendi was “the first person to put her hand up” in a staff meeting. Rupert was instantly taken with her beauty, boldness and intelligence. The chemistry was instant, and Deng became Rupert’s chaperone and interpreter throughout his stay.
“I had heard of him before but never seen him,” Deng told the China Daily in 2008. “My boss assigned me to introduce the Chinese market to him. He was very interested in Chinese culture and we talked a lot.”
The couple first started appearing in public together in 1998, one year before Rupert’s marriage to his first wife, Anna Maria Torv, ended after a protracted divorce settlement. Seventeen days after the papers were signed — at a cost to Rupert of $1.7 billion — he married Wendi on his yacht, Morning Glory, in New York Harbor.
“Wendi happily traveled the world with him, sweetly holding his hand in the back of a sedan (Rupert thinks limousines pretentious),” New York’s Steve Fishman wrote. “She accompanied him to China, where it must’ve seemed she was living a fairy tale. At dinner one evening, the daughter of the factory manager was seated next to the then-president of China. Rupert sat on the other side.”
Wendi also oversaw a physical fitness regimen for herself and her husband, hiring full-time personal trainers and closely monitoring their diet. Despite a battle with prostate cancer, a newly revitalized Murdoch never missed a day of work during that period. And Murdoch seemed equally voracious in bed: “She was said to have told an associate that Rupert used Viagra but didn’t need it,” Fishman writes.
The couple moved into a $7 million loft in New York’s Soho district, and soon after Rupert paid $44 million — a then record-setting sum — for a penthouse on Fifth Avenue that once belonged to Laurance Rockefeller. They then began snapping up residences around the globe, adding homes in Los Angeles; London; Canberra, Australia; Carmel, Calif.; and Centre Island, N.Y. Children followed — Grace Helen Murdoch, born in 2001, and Chloe Murdoch, born two years later.
Deng never assumed a formal role at News Corp. — Rupert told Vanity Fair in 1999 that she was too “busy working on decorating the new apartment” — but it quickly became obvious that Wendi was deeply involved in shaping its vision, particularly in its Asian business dealings. In the mid-aughts, Deng worked closely with stepson James Murdoch to initiate $45 million in Chinese Internet investment. She was chief strategist for MySpace China and co-CEO and co-founder of Big Feet productions, the film production company that produced Snow Flower and the Secret Fan for Fox Searchlight.
Meanwhile, the media’s fascination with Deng proved to be Murdoch’s weak spot. That Wall Street Journal story about his wife — the one that unearthed the dirt about the Cherrys — incensed him so much that seven years later, when Murdoch was bidding to buy the newspaper, it was obviously still lodged under his skin like a splinter.
“If it’s a legitimate news story, Rupert would say fine,” a News Corp. executive told The New York Times in 2007. “But it wasn’t a legitimate news story, in that Wendi had no role in the company at that time. What they were doing was looking for a pretext to write a public story about a private individual.” There were rumors Rupert had other stories about his wife killed — including a 10,000 word profile by a Forbes reporter that was to run in several Australian newspapers in which he held a partial stake.
It wasn’t until 2011, however, that Wendi went from an object of fascination for media-watchers and Rupert-haters alike to a veritable household name. All eyes were on the couple that day, as Rupert testified before a House of Commons hearing in London, the frequently befuddled mogul being made to answer hard questions about his involvement in the tabloid phone-tapping scandal that had dominated international headlines for months.
Son James sat frozen and impotent as a prankster launched himself at Murdoch, cream pie in hand. But Deng, poised right behind her husband in an immaculately tailored pink jacket, cornflower-blue shirt and black skirt, launched herself with abandon at Jonnie Marbles, the dessert-wielding interloper. A former volleyball player, she put her athleticism to good use that day, and was dubbed an unlikely hero — a rare PR coup during her husband’s most vulnerable moment.
The footage went instantly viral, and the requisite parody Twitter account soon followed. Only unlike most fake Twitter accounts, this one was accidentally verified by Twitter, with hilarious consequences: When fake Wendi tweeted to Rupert, “@rupertmurdoch RUPERT!!! delete tweet!” even Rupert himself was fooled, and promptly obeyed what he thought were his wife’s wishes.
And now, 14 years after they tied the knot aboard the Morning Glory, the billionaire mogul and his wife have filed for divorce. A News Corp. spokesman tells CNBC that the couple have been living separate lives for over six months. The news comes ahead of News Corp.’s planned split into two separately traded companies, dividing its entertainment and publishing empire into stand-alone entities. The couple had signed a prenup, the terms of which allow for Wendi to receive cash and property but no control of News Corp. or its subsidiaries.
Rupert, for his part, has a new mistress of sorts. The mogul tweeted last month that he was in the market for a Bel Air vineyard.
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