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Flamboyant owner of Nice's famed Negresco hotel dies aged 95

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Flamboyant owner of Nice's famed Negresco hotel dies aged 95
Photo: AFP
09:00 CET+01:00
The flamboyant owner of the seafront Negresco hotel in the French city of Nice has died at the age of 95, her guardian told AFP on Tuesday, plunging the future of the pink-domed Riviera landmark into uncertainty.
Jeanne Augier, the heirless matriarch of the palatial Negresco which has dominated the palm-lined Promenade des Anglais for a century, died Monday night in the hotel she ran for over 60 years, her guardian Laurence Cina-Marro confirmed to AFP. 
 
Augier inherited the hotel from her father in 1957 and built it up into a favourite with the Cote d'Azur jetset. Its guests included Salvador Dali, the Beatles and Elton John, who featured the hotel in the video for his hit "I'm Still Standing".
   
"The Negresco is above all a place where everything is possible, flamboyance served on a tray," it boasts on its website.
   
The death of the queen of "Nice's Eiffel Tower" -- a listed monument with a stately Belle Epoque facade, chandelier-lit dining room and sweeping views of the Mediterranean -- was seen in the resort city as marking the end of an era.
 
Photo: AFP
   
"The Negresco has lost its star," Nice Matin daily wrote in an obituary.
 
Jetset favourite
 
Named after its Romanian-born founder Henri Negresco, the hotel opened in 1913 and immediately became an instant favourite with European royalty and glitterati.
   
Each of its 124 rooms has unique furnishings, including items from Augier's vast personal art collection, some of which date back to the 16th century.
   
An elegant figure, who dyed her carefully coiffed hair auburn and wore ruby red lipstick, the widow from Brittany devoted her life to preserving the hotel's heritage. 
   
Apart from her employees, who called her "Madame", she also lavished attention on her cats and dogs.
   
Her 97-percent stake in the hotel, which is profitable, was valued at between 300 and 400 million euros ($340 to $460 million) in 2016, excluding the art and furniture.
 
Photo: AFP
   
Augier, who had no children, nieces or nephews, sought to protect her staff and legacy by bequeathing the hotel to a special fund in 2009 to try to ward off foreign buyers after her death.
   
"I must have a hundred offers a year to buy the Negresco. It's out of the question," she told Liberation newspaper in 2009.
   
An animal lover who campaigned against bullfighting and a defender of refugees, she also tasked the fund with the vague mission of "easing animal and human suffering".
 
Gates 'not rich enough'
 
Among the Negresco's rejected suitors, according to Nice Matin, were the Sultan of Brunei and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who gave her a blank cheque which she returned with the message "You are not rich enough!".
   
But she failed to prevent the hotel becoming the subject of several legal battles, including one involving a young art historian whom she tasked with creating an inventory of her collection who was charged with trying to take advantage of her.
 
Photo: AFP
   
Suffering from memory loss, Augier was appointed a guardian in 2013 to protect her and she spent her final years confined to a wheelchair.
   
The Negresco has borne witness to some of the defining moments in Nice's history, including the July 2016 Bastille Day attack, when a jihadist used a truck to mow down revellers on the seafront promenade in front of the hotel.
   
The building's main hall was turned into a field hospital in the wake of the attack, which deeply scarred the city.
   
Augier, who lived in an apartment on the sixth floor of the Negresco, built up a huge collection of 6,000 artworks, which are dotted throughout the hotel.
 
Among her prize acquisitions were a famous portrait of "Sun King" Louis XIV and a huge canary yellow female figure by sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle.
 
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