French businesswoman Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress of cosmetics giant L'Oreal and daughter of the company's founder, has died. Bettencourt was also considered the richest woman in the world.
French businesswoman Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress of cosmetics giant L'Oreal and daughter of the company's founder, has died. Bettencourt was also considered the richest woman in the world. EPA/HORST OSSINGER

L'Oreal heiress and world's richest woman dead at 94

L'OREAL cosmetics heiress Liliane Bettencourt - listed as the world's richest woman - has died at the age of 94.

The former socialite, whose life swung between meeting the rich and famous, fragile family relationships and scandal, died in Paris on Wednesday night (local time).

"My mother left peacefully," Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers said.

Ms Bettencourt was the daughter of L'Oreal founder Eugene Schueller, and it was in his factory that she earned her first job at the age of 15.

She married former French minister Andre Bettencourt at the age of 28 in 1950.

Mr Bettencourt and Mr Schueller courted controversy as alleged Nazi sympathisers and anti-Semites despite their close relationship with former social president Francois Mitterrand.

Despite the allegations, Ms Bettencourt took control of L'Oreal when her father died in 1957 and, along with former CEO Francoise Dalle, led the company into its most prosperous years.

"Because you're worth it" - the tag line that turned L'Oreal into a $126 billion company. Supplied

L'Oreal is worth $126 billion today and is France's fourth-largest listed firm.

And Ms Bettencourt reaped the rewards with Forbes estimating her fortune to be $49 billion.

However, her wealth and position attracted another scandal when her only child, Francoise, accused photographer Francois-Marie Banier of taking advantage of her mother's growing fragility.

But fight took on a whole new level when Ms Bettencourt-Meyers gave police secret recordings between her mother and her wealth manager, which subsequently engulfed prominent politicians.

Then, in a subsequent probe, former president Nicolas Sarkozy was investigated as to whether he exploited Ms Bettencourt to fund his victorious 2007 campaign. The inquiry was eventually dropped.

In 2011, Ms Bettencourt was ruled to be suffering from dementia and her wealth was put under the control of her daughter - a scenario not envisioned by the ageing heiress.

"My daughter could have waited patiently for my death instead of doing all she can to precipitate it," Mrs Bettencourt said in an interview.



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