Wendi Murdoch Blindsided By Divorce Filing (Analysis)

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Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng Murdoch at a memorial service for Rupert's mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, in 2012.

UPDATED: As Rupert moves to end their 14 year marriage, questions swirl around her friendships with men including Tony Blair and Eric Schmidt.

Sources say Wendi Deng Murdoch was caught off-guard Thursday when served with divorce papers by husband Rupert Murdoch, even though the couple had grown apart. 

Shortly after news broke that the News Corp. mogul is seeking to end his marriage of 14 years, rumors began to circulate of possible reasons for the split. While sources familiar with both Rupert, 82, and Wendi, 44, say they have lived increasingly separate lives, especially in recent months, a precise reason for the split was not apparent. News Corp. is set to divide into two separate companies June 28, though sources say the coming business move was not the primary impetus.

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Another theory floated by several sources is that the marriage was strained by Wendi’s socializing and friendships with a series of men over a number of years, including MySpace co-founder Chris DeWolfe as well as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. A spokesman for the Murdochs declined to comment. A call to Wendi's attorney was not returned.

A New York Times profile in June 2012 noted that Rupert rarely accompanies Wendi to the many charitable functions she attends and that her social circle has grown to include Blair, David Geffen, Bono and Nicole Kidman

Rumors of a romantic affair with DeWolfe made their way into media reports in 2008, a few years after Murdoch’s News Corp. bought MySpace for $580 million. At the time, both Wendi Murdoch and DeWolfe declined to comment. Wendi was “chief of strategy” for MySpace.

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More recently, there have been hints of a special relationship with Blair, who is said to be a godfather to at least one of Wendi and Rupert's daughters. In an article titled "Tony Blair and the Murdochs: A Family Affair" in The Guardian last year, author Michael Wolff described Blair as one of Wendi’s “first official social conquests” and suggested that she and Blair had joined forces to “handle” Rupert. Wolfe tweeted in May 2012, “Wendi Murdoch and Tony Blair: you heard it here first,” prompting journalist Jacob Weisberg to tweet, “Are you suggesting what I think?” A source close to Blair categorically denies any romantic relationship.

Schmidt, said to be friends with Wendi Murdoch, was mentioned in 2010 press reports as having invested with her in the New York-based startup Art.sy, meant to match art with prospective buyers. He has been estranged from his wife, Wendy, and according to media accounts has been linked to other women. The New York Times questioned Schmidt about such relationships in August 2012. His response: "I don’t think that is an appropriate question. We don’t comment on that -- rumors.” A Schmidt friend says it's "doubtful" the Google exec would be romantically linked to Wendi Murdoch.  

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Rupert Murdoch met Wendi Deng in 1998 when she was an employee of News Corp.'s Star TV in Hong Kong. They married in 1999 and have two daughters, Grace, 11, and Chloe, 9. In recent years, China-born Wendi has played an increasing role in News Corp.'s business in China, as well as producing the Fox Searchlight release Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Sources say she has acted as an intermediary to Chinese officials for several Hollywood executives. Wendi gained national attention in 2011 when she came to her husband's defense after an assailant attempted to hit him with a pie during a hearing in connection with the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

The Times reported that the Murdochs were both in New York on Thursday when Rupert filed for divorce in New York State Supreme Court. The filing said that the “relationship between husband and wife has broken down irretrievably.”

Rupert is represented by divorce lawyer Ira E. Garr. Pamela Sloan will represent Wendi. Murdoch’s divorce in 1998 from his second wife, Anna Maria Torv, cost him $1.7 billion, though he and Wendi are said to have a prenuptial agreement. 

E-mail: Kim.Masters@thr.com
Twitter: @KimMasters