Leona Helmsley left her dog, Trouble, $12 million after she died. (CBS/The Early Show)
New York (CBS) _ Real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley was tagged with the nickname "Queen of Mean" and won no hearts when the quote "Only the little people pay taxes" was repeatedly attributed to her, despite her denials.
When Helmsley died last August and left $12 million to her tiny Maltese, Trouble, the last will and testament only reinforced the urban legend that she didn't care much for humans. It came as little surprise that there would be hostility towards the dog. But death and kidnapping threats seem a little extreme.
"I think the reaction was really quite bizarre," Helmsley's longtime friend John Codey told Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith.
Codey is in charge of the pampered pooch and her trust fund. He said he was alarmed by the number of threats and estimates that Trouble received about 20 or 30.
"'I'm gonna kill the dog,'" he said people threatened. "'I'm gonna kidnap the dog. I need the $12 million.'"
The Early Show has been given exclusive access to the life, the records and the story behind the $12 million Maltese.
But to understand the dog, you have to first understand Helmsley. She was a wealthy woman. She and her husband owned numerous properties including over two dozen hotels in ten states, among them New York's Helmsley hotel, Park Lane, and the Palace. But her close friends say she was one of the most generous women in the world, quietly giving away close to $100 million to those in need, just in the last decade.
"To me she was always the queen of philanthropy," President and CEO of Greenwich Hospital Frank Corvino said. "She gave away an awful lot of money and helped a lot of people through different charities."
The main building at the Greenwich Hospital is named after Helmsley and her husband as thanks for their $10 million donation in 1999. It was the largest donation in hospital history. She also gave $25 million to New York Presbyterian hospital this year.
"Her generosity will be enduring and God knows how many people over the years to come will be helped because of her," said Dr. Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
The list of Helmsley's charitable donations goes on: moved by Sept. 11th, she gave $5 million to victims' families and four years later, gave another $5 million to the Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief. Inspired by the strong-willed Helen Keller, she gave $1.5 million to the Helen Keller National Center to expand a Braille Library for deaf-blind children, and build a conference center.
"She could be the queen of kindness," said her spokesman, Howard Rubenstein. "The good things she did never saw daylight."
He claims Helmsley asked him to keep her lifetime of philanthropy a secret, and what she's done in death, is even more astounding, leaving $6 to 8 billion to her charitable trust. Trustees are still deciding where the money will go, and plan to make an announcement in the next several weeks.
When you put it in perspective, the $12 million seems as tiny as the dog who received it. Perhaps Helmsley merely wanted to give something back to the dog who was truly her best friend. As soon as the dog dies, whatever is left of Trouble's inheritance goes back to the charitable trust.
"Trouble is very much alive and well taken care of," Codey said. "I can tell you that she's in this country and she's in a nice warm climate."
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