Brooke Astor was only in her mid - 50s when her wealthy husband, Vincent Astor, died, leaving her the sudden heir to a trust fund worth more than $60 million. She started the Astor Foundation and began a four - decade - and - then - some adventure, gracefully balancing the self - indulgences she could well afford with an enormous philanthropic spirit. Following the lead of Gilded Age predecessors like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie, Brooke shrewdly turned the Astor name into an icon of munificence, endowing museums, schools, hospitals, libraries and charities, turning herself into a "sought - after social arbiter" in the process.

As Meryl Gordon writes in Mrs. Astor Regrets, "the ability to dispense millions made her popular and powerful, and Mrs. Astor reveled in her long - running starring role, savoring the accolades." She loved high fashion, parties and fascinating people - her inner circle included David Rockefeller, Nancy Reagan, Henry Kissinger. Her gravestone heralds this charmed existence, with a simple, self - chosen epitaph: "I had a wonderful life." And a long one, too: she lived to be 105. But toward the end of it, things went sour.

In 2006, her grandson, Philip Marshall, filed a lawsuit against his own father (and Astor's only child), Anthony Marshall, for alleged mistreatment, seeking to remove his father from guardianship. The public lawsuit propelled their private squabble into tabloid sensation. Changes to Astor's will cast suspicion of criminal wrongdoing on her son, eventually leading to a charge of first - degree grand larceny. Through her carefully crafted and well - documented expos

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