In the early 20th century, Bing & Bing was one of New York’s leading property developers. Founded by brothers Leo and Alexander, the company developed the Drake and Gramercy Park hotels, as well as luxury apartment buildings across Manhattan. But their heirs cashed in the property empire in 1985 – and now, more than 35 years later, the family is embroiled in a brutal tale of billionaires and paternity feuds.
Isn’t this the feud involving actress Liz Hurley?
The very same. It’s a little convoluted, so bear with me. Leo Bing’s son Peter, now 90, didn’t fancy getting into the real-estate business and instead became a doctor. He married a nurse called Helen Popovich and they had two children, both born in New York: Steve in 1965 and Mary a year later. Dr Peter Bing’s inheritance is worth an estimated $2bn. So far, so straightforward. The problems began when Peter’s son, Steve, inherited a whopping $600m from his grandfather’s empire at the age of 18.
Let me guess what happened next… he became a playboy?
Bingo. He started gambling and living in five-star hotels, hung out with Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger, and reportedly dated Sharon Stone, Liv Tyler, Uma Thurman and Sheryl Crow. Fancying himself as a film financier, he founded Shangri-La Entertainment and blew millions on dud films. (His one notable success was 2004’s The Polar Express, starring Tom Hanks, for which he stumped up $85m.) Bing was generous to a fault: he paid for Jerry Lee Lewis’s hip replacement and picked up the $200,000 tab to fly Bill Clinton to North Korea on his Boeing 737 in 2009, so he could liberate some hapless American journalists. As Lewis’s spokesman Zach Farnum once said: “Steve was given a lot and he spent it all on other people.” Much went on prostitutes, to whom he paid $10,000 a session. Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss told the New York Post last October that Bing gave her his American Express card to use if she was ever “in a jam”.
How thoughtful. But how generous was he with his own flesh and blood?
This is where things get complicated. He was embroiled in paternity wrangles over both his children. The first was with Lisa Bonder, a former professional tennis player with whom he had a four-month fling in 1997. Baby Kira was the result, although she initially thought to belong to casino billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, whom Bonder had also been seeing. She married him in 1999 – for a month. When the elderly Kerkorian suspected the child was in fact Bing’s, one of his security staff was sent to steal dental floss from Bing’s dustbin. Kerkorian’s suspicions proved correct. Bing was outraged, and in May 2002 filed a $1bn lawsuit against Kerkorian, claiming a breach of privacy. According to the New York Post, Bing then requested to meet his daughter, Kira. “Bonder turned him, and his offer of child support, down, and the suit was amicably resolved.”
Some people’s lives are truly complicated. Where does Liz Hurley come into the story?
In 2000, when she began a high-profile relationship with Bing that lasted all of 18 months. Shortly before it imploded, Hurley fell pregnant, reportedly at Elton John’s villa in the south of France. Not mine, said Bing, who issued this statement: “Ms Hurley and I were not in an exclusive relationship when she became pregnant. It is her choice to be a single mother.” A DNA test in 2002 proved otherwise. To his credit, Bing then announced plans to create a $2.9m trust fund for their son, Damian. Hurley retorted that it was “not wanted or welcome”, while Bing’s sister, Mary, said her brother had been “snookered” into having a child.
Ouch. Then what?
Damian was raised by Hurley in Britain, Kira by her mother in California, and Bing continued frittering away his millions without being a father to either. Meanwhile his father, Peter, had established a trust to “benefit [his] future grandchildren”, stipulating that any grandchild born out of wedlock who did not live with their parent for a significant amount of time as a child would not be a beneficiary. Later, when Kira was 19 and studying in LA, Bing unexpectedly got in touch and the two began meeting. In 2019 he successfully fought to have both his children added to the family’s nine-figure trust, which could have been worth $250m each. Then tragedy struck. Bing had a history of depression and drug abuse, and in June last year, days before the one-year anniversary of the death of his girlfriend Allexanne Mitchum from an overdose, he jumped out of the window of his 27th-floor LA apartment. His fortune had allegedly dwindled to just $300,000.
Hadn’t he begun to move closer to both his children?
His long-time friend Alana Stewart – Rod Stewart’s ex – said Bing had planned to see Damian and had spoken to him for the first time on his 18th birthday, just weeks before his death. And his daughter Kira said of their growing relationship: “We developed a very real and what I would consider a very loving relationship.” Bing reportedly left a suicide note for both children.
How did Bing’s billionaire family react?
They showed no interest in meeting their son’s children. In fact, Peter Bing wasted no time reversing Steve’s wish to have his children included in the family trust. Last October a judge declared that Bing Sr could divide the trust funds as he pleased, with Mary’s children, Lucy, 21, and Anton, 19, now the main benefactors. Bonder, whose daughter, Kira, got $8.5m from Kirk Kerkorian’s trust after he died in 2015, despite not being his daughter, reacted furiously. She told The Sunday Times last week that the decision was based purely on greed: “You don’t even want to welcome your own grandchild… mentor her, guide her, get to know her?” Hurley, 56, recently told the Mail: “When Stephen took his own life, he died thinking his children were going to be taken care of. What he wanted has now been callously reversed.”
What a sorry tale. Benjamin Franklin was dead right: “Money has never made man happy, nor will it.”