Notorious New York hotelier Leona Helmsley, nicknamed "the Queen of Mean" for her outrageous behavior, died in August 2007 of congestive heart failure at the age of 87. In her will, Helmsley left a $12 million trust fund to Trouble, her Maltese dog, $10 million each to two of her four grandchildren, and nothing to the other two. Later, a judge reduced the sum left to Trouble to $2 million, after the dog’s caretaker, who earns $60,000 a year, testified that it would be enough to support the pup’s lavish lifestyle for the rest of its life.
Born in 1748, Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher, jurist and social reformer. An early exponent of utilitarianism and the benefits of public education, Bentham’s ideas and writings were seminal in the establishment in 1826 of London University, today University College London, the first English university to admit students without regard to race, sex or religion. Upon Bentham’s death in June 1832, his body was preserved as requested in his will. Bentham wished to be embalmed, dressed, and placed in his chair "in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought." The body remains on display in a glass case at the University College London. Because Bentham’s head was damaged during preservation, it is stored separately, and the body was fitted with a wax replica. For the college’s 100th and 150th anniversaries, Bentham’s remains were brought to sit at the meeting of the College Council. He was listed as "present but not voting."
Iowa attorney T.M. Zink, who died in 1930, had such a strong disdain for women that he wished to use his savings to establish a library that would allow no works by female authors or artists, and would prohibit female patrons. In his will, Zink stipulated that his $35,000 be placed in a trust for 75 years, and the accumulated sum be used to build the Zink Womanless Library, where every entrance would bear a sign with the words "No Women Allowed." Zink’s daughter, who was left $5 in the same will, challenged it successfully, and the female-free learning zone was never built.
Before celebrated comedian Jack Benny died of pancreatic cancer in October 1974, he arranged one final romantic gesture for his wife of 47 years, Mary Livingstone. Benny left a sum of money to a local florist for one long-stemmed red rose to be delivered to Livingstone every day for the rest of her life. Livingstone, who had performed with Benny throughout most of his career, outlived her husband by nine years.
When magician and escape artist Harry Houdini died in 1926 as a result of a ruptured appendix, he left the rabbits he used to pull out of his hat to the children of his close friends. An outspoken skeptic of mysticism, Houdini included in his will a message to his wife, instructing her to conduct a seance every Halloween so that he could, if possible, contact her from the other side. To prevent clever frauds from attempting to impersonate him to his beloved at these seances, Houdini provided her with a set of ten randomly selected words which he would use to identify himself. After ten years, she discontinued the seances; Houdini never appeared.
Before his death in May 2008, Frederic Baur, the man who came up with the distinctive Pringles can, told his children that he wished to be buried in his invention. At first Baur’s children were slightly skeptical of his wish, but when Baur passed away, they honored his request by purchasing a can of Pringles Original at a local pharmacy for part of his cremated remains, which were duly interred.
One of the chief architects of modern superhero comics, Mark Gruenwald was executive editor of Marvel Comics, overseeing such classics as Captain America and Iron Man. His proudest achievement, however, was his authorship of the 12-issue miniseries Squadron Supreme, in which a team of superheroes from an alternate universe attempt to use their powers to run a perfect world. When Gruenwald died of a heart attack in 1996, he was cremated and his ashes were preserved in accordance with his will: Gruenwald was literally immortalized in his work -- his ashes were blended with the inks used to print a 4,000-copy print run of the collected miniseries.
Audrey Jean Knauer
In Louisville, Ky., a devoted fan of Charles Bronson, wrote a will a year before her 1997 death at the age of 55, leaving her $300,000 estate to the Death Wish actor. The will, handwritten on a list of emergency phone numbers, also stipulated that absolutely nothing be left to her mother Helen. Knauer’s sister contested the will, stating that a will Knauer had written 20 years prior, in which she left everything to relatives, was more authentic. Despite the lawsuit, the money went to the action hero, whose spokesperson told the New York Post that he would donate it to charity.
Countess Carlotta Liebenstein
When German Countess Carlotta Liebenstein died in 1991, she left her precious canine companion Gunther III about $80 million, allowing him and a puppy he later fathered, naturally named Gunther IV, to reside in their own mansion.
Asia’s richest woman Nina Wang died in April 2007 with an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion. Wang wrote two wills, one in 2002 and another in 2006. In the 2002 will, Wang left her fortune to her charitable trust. However, in 2006, Wang apparently had a change of heart, and left everything to her personal feng shui consultant, Tony Chan.
Charles Vance Millar
Known throughout his life as a prankster, Canadian lawyer Charles Vance Millar had no family to which to leave his assets. So before his 1926 death, Millar, who enjoyed devising social experiments that targeted peoples’ greed, drafted a truly unusual will. In it, he granted three men who hated each other joint ownership of his Jamaica vacation home. In the ninth clause of his will, Millar dictated that ten years after his death the value of his estate, $750,000, be granted to the Canadian woman who had had the most babies in the interim. The resulting "contest" resulted in a tie, and four women, who each bore nine children, shared the wealth. Thus, the estate of the childless, joke-loving attorney was passed on to support the upbringing of 36 children whom he had never met.
"Steady" Ed Headrick
Known as "the father of Disc Golf," Frisbee innovator Ed Headrick created a flying disc that could be thrown with more accuracy and control and founded several associations such as the International Frisbee Association and the Professional Disc Golf Association. Having devoted his life to the development of professional and recreational flying discs, Headrick wished to be cremated and for his ashes to be molded into discs. Several of these discs were made - some were given to family members, while others were sold with proceeds going towards the establishment of a nonprofit "Steady" Ed Memorial Disc Golf Museum.
George Bernard Shaw
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the only winner of both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar, left a large part of his wealth to be used towards funding the creation of a new alphabet. While the sum was reduced to a mere £8600, Shaw’s wish for a phonetic alphabet that would avoid the confusions of English spelling was carried out, and an edition of his famous play Androcles and the Lion was published using the 55-letter Shavian Alphabet.
The creator of Star Trek, Eugene Wesley "Gene" Roddenberry was one of the first people to have a space burial. After his 1991 death from heart failure, Roddenberry was cremated, and some of his cremains were brought on a mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. In 1997, more of Roddenberry’s ashes, as well as the ashes of others who desired a space burial, were launched into orbit via a Pegasus XL rocket. The service was provided by Celestis, a company which specializes in space burials. In 2012, another portion of Roddenberry’s ashes is planned to depart into deep space, together with the ashes of his late wife Majel Barrett.
Upon his death, Finnish businessman Onni Nurmi left the dividends from 780 shares in a Finnish company that manufactured rubber boots to the residents of a rural nursing home. The company was Nokia, which, having moved into telecommunications in the 1970s, is now the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones. The skyrocketing shares have made millionaires of the residents.