PARIS — Baron Guy de Rothschild, the patriarch of the Rothschild family here who, with his late wife Marie-Helene, threw some of the most lavish balls of the last century, has died, France Galop, the horse racing organization, revealed Wednesday. He was 98.
The cause of death could not be learned, nor could details of Rothschild's funeral. But a private service for Rothschild was believed to be held Wednesday in a synagogue in Paris, after which he was interred.
A private man who lived through some of the last century's most tumultuous events, Rothschild will be remembered by many for the incredible parties he hosted with Marie-Helene, his second wife. Those glittering fetes encapsulated the opulence and refinement of a passed generation — as well as the mystique and power of the Rothschild name — and placed the couple at the pinnacle of Parisian society for decades.
"Since Marie-Helene died, Guy retreated from society," said Pierre Bergé. "His death is the exclamation point of the end of an era, with the passing of Marie-Helene and the Baron de Rede. Guy de Rothschild was an elegant man — elegant morally, too. He was very discreet and didn't open up very much. I remember his favorite wine was Cheval Blanc."
Born in 1909, at the height of his family's influence and power, Rothschild grew up in a massive town house on the corner of the Place de la Concorde in Paris, which is now the American consulate. He entered the family banking business young. With his precise mind and steely determination, it didn't take long for him to master the tricks of the trade. Soon he replaced his father, Edouard, at the helm.
At the outset of World War II, the family's fortunes were tested as the Nazis confiscated the Rothschilds' assets and Guy fled to London. After the war, Rothschild met Marie-Helene, then married to a count. He'd already been married for 18 years to his first wife, Alix, with whom he had a son, David. But he was smitten by Marie-Helene and couldn't live without her. (Marie-Helene gave Rothschild a second son, Edouard.)
"I'm not a man who divorces," Rothschild told W, WWD's sister publication, in 1998. "Who throws away a highly respectable, devoted wife. One doesn't like to do that. But it was a double divorce to get two people together, therefore a proof of true love."Soon jet-setters around the world — princes, kings, actors and artists — were clamoring for an invitation from Paris' most glamorous couple.
They bought the Hôtel Lambert, the historic town house at the tip of the Ile Saint Louis in Paris, at the urging of Marie-Helene's friend, the Baron Alexis de Rede, and entertained weekends at Ferrieres, a sprawling 19th-century estate east of Paris. Two of Marie-Helene's most famous balls — the Proust Ball of 1971 and the Surrealist Ball of 1972 — were held at the country house, which Rothschild later donated to the University of Paris.
Rothschild often said socializing and ball giving were really his wife's affair. "It was great fun for me, but they were her parties," Rothschild told W.
He instead focused on running the family Banque Rothschild, which was founded by his great-grandfather, James, in 1881. Though he retired as chairman in 1979, he returned to set up shop in New York in the early Eighties when French socialist president François Mitterrand nationalized the bank.
He also was an influential consul to successive French governments, including the administrations of French presidents Georges Pompidou and Jacques Chirac, who often sought his advice.
Rothschild loved horse breeding and racing, and served as the president of the France Galop association for years, which is now headed by his son, Edouard. When Marie-Helene passed away in 1996 after a long battle with degenerative arthritis, Rothschild wrote a novel, called "Le Fantome de Lea" ("The Ghost of Lea"). It was about the life of a Jewish woman during World War II. He had penned a memoir in 1986, "The Whims of Fortune."
In his later years, Rothschild hardly visited the Hôtel Lambert, where the Baron de Rede lived until his death in 2004. He split his time between a small house on the grounds of Ferrieres and his 15th-century manor on his stud farm in Normandy. Hôtel Lambert was put up for sale and it is said the Emir of Qatar purchased the grand house earlier this year.
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