Ivana Trump, first wife of Donald Trump who helped build his empire, dies at 73

Ivana Trump arrives at amfAR's Cinema Against Aids 2006 event in France, on May 25, 2006.
PHOTO: Reuters

Ivana Trump, the first wife of former US President Donald Trump and the mother of his three oldest children, who helped her husband build some of his signature buildings including Trump Tower, died on Thursday (July 14) at age 73, Donald Trump announced.

"I am very saddened to inform all of those that loved her, of which there are many, that Ivana Trump has passed away at her home in New York City," Trump said in a post on the social medial platform Truth Social.

The couple married in 1977 and divorced in 1992. They had three children together: Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric.

"Ivana Trump was a survivor. She fled from communism and embraced this country. She taught her children about grit and toughness, compassion and determination," the Trump family said in a statement. She grew up under Communist rule in former Czechoslovakia.

Neither the Trump family statement nor the post from the former president mentioned the cause of death, but a police spokesperson said she was found dead on the stairs inside her apartment and that foul play was not suspected.

The New York Times, citing unnamed law enforcement officials, said it appeared accidental and she may have fallen down the stairs.

The Fire Department of New York said paramedics responded to a call to her apartment for a cardiac arrest.

She was born Ivana Marie Zelnickova on Feb 20, 1949, in Gottwaldov, Czechoslovakia, the town where she grew up near Prague which is now known as Zlin in the Czech Republic.

She spent much of her youth in competitive skiing for the Czechoslovakian national system, later competing for Charles University in Prague, where she earned a master's degree in physical education and languages, according to her biography posted by CMG Worldwide, a business agency for celebrities that represented her.

After university, she followed her love interest at the time, professional skier George Syrovatka, to Canada, and later began modelling for the Audrey Morris agency in Montreal, CMG said.

While on a modelling trip to New York in 1976, she met Donald Trump, CMG said, and they were married nine months later.

Developer Donald Trump talks with his former wife Ivana Trump during the men's final at the US Open on Sept 7,1997.
PHOTO: Reuters

Ivana Trump played a role in building up the Trump media image in the 1980s when they were one of New York City's most prominent power couples.

While Donald Trump took the credit for his early success in breaking into the highly competitive Manhattan real estate market, Ivana Trump also filled an important role in the family business soon after their marriage, the New York Times reported.

She worked alongside her husband in developing Trump Tower, his signature building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and other high-profile projects such as the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Times said.

Ivana Trump was the vice president for interior design for the Trump Organisation and managed the historic Plaza Hotel, which Trump acquired in 1988 all while raising their three children.

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Their divorce, which came after Donald Trump's highly publicised affair with Marla Maples, whom he later married, was fodder for the New York tabloids.

A New York judge cited "cruel and inhuman treatment" by Donald Trump in granting Ivana Trump's request for divorce.

She appeared in the 1996 film First Wives Club, in which she tells three women whose husbands dumped them for younger women, "Don't get mad. Get everything."

In her divorce settlement, Ivana Trump received $14 million (S$19.6 million) plus $650,000 per year to support their three children, a 45-room mansion in Connecticut, an apartment in Trump Plaza, and use of the Mar-a-Lago mansion in Florida for one month a year, the New York Times reported.

Whatever their previous differences, Ivana Trump supported her former husband's run for the White House in 2016, telling interviewers she periodically offered him advice.

She told CBS television in 2017 that Trump offered her the ambassadorship to the Czech Republic but that she turned it down.

Ivana Trump is survived by her mother, her three children and 10 grandchildren, the family statement said.

She married three other times, including once before she met Trump in what she described as a Cold War marriage to obtain an Austrian passport. Her two later marriages also ended in divorce.