French tycoon Liliane Bettencourt, the world's richest woman, sat atop the L'Oreal empire and ran a philanthropic foundation,
but faced an old age clouded by dementia and legal drama.
Bettencourt, who died late on Wednesday at the age of 94, was the main shareholder in the world's top cosmetics company L'Oreal, with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes magazine in March at $39.5 billion (33 billion euros).
“Liliane Bettencourt died last night at home,” her daughter Francoise Bettencourt Meyers said in a statement. “My mother left peacefully.”
“We all had a deep admiration for Liliane Bettencourt, who… was committed to (L'Oreal's) success and its development,” L'Oreal CEO Jean-Paul Agon said in a statement.
Bettencourt was rarely seen in public after leaving the L'Oreal board in 2012, but her name remained in the headlines as members of her entourage were charged with exploiting her failing mental health.
Bettencourt had been declared unfit to run her own affairs in 2011 after a medical report showing she had suffered from “mixed dementia” and “moderately severe” Alzheimer's disease since 2006.
The complex legal case involved a bitter feud with her only daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, as well as unscrupulous friends, and even dragged in former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
In 2008 Bettencourt-Meyers, who is on the L'Oreal board, filed a lawsuit against her mother over funds the magnate had given to a celebrity photographer and confidant.
Liliane Bettencourt insisted at the time that she was in perfect health.
Eight members of Bettencourt's entourage were convicted in May 2015 of fleecing her, including photographer Francois-Marie Banier, who was given a four-year suspended prison sentence on appeal.
Patrice de Maistre, who managed Bettencourt's vast fortune, was sentenced to 30 months in prison, 12 of which were suspended, and a fine of 250,000 euros.
Envelopes of cash
De Maistre was accused of getting Bettencourt to hand over envelopes of cash to members of Sarkozy's rightwing party during his 2007 presidential campaign.
The charges against Sarkozy were dropped in October 2013 due to lack of evidence.
Bettencourt was born Liliane Schueller on October 21, 1922, in Paris, where her father Eugene Schueller was marketing an early hair dye formula he had invented in 1907.
Schueller, the son of bakers from the eastern Alsace region, initially named his company Aureale, but changed it to L'Oreal in 1939.
Liliane, who had lost her mother when she was five years old, adored her father, whom she liked to say “taught me the meaning of hard work.”
The product of a strict Catholic upbringing, she started helping out with the company at age 15, sticking labels on bottles of shampoo and mixing cosmetics.