Liliane Bettencourt, heir to the cosmetics firm L'Oréal and the world's wealthiest woman, has died at the age of 94. She passed away in the early hours of Thursday morning at her home in Paris, her daughter Francoise Bettencourt-Meyes said in a statement. "She would have been 95 on 21 October," she added. "My mother left peacefully."
Liliane was last year named the richest women in the world by Forbes magazine, with a fortune of £29billion, making her the 14th richest person. L'Oréal chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Agon paid tribute to Liliane and offered his condolences to her family. "We all had a deep admiration for Liliane Bettencourt who has always watched over L'Oréal, the company and its employees, and who was very attached to its success and development," he said. "She personally contributed a lot to its success for very many years. A great woman of beauty has left us and we will never forget her."
Liliane Bettencourt pictured with her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers
Liliane was the only child of Louise Madelaine Berth and Eugene Schueller, who founded a hair dye company in 1909 which became the L'Oréal group. Her mother sadly passed away when she was just five and she joined the family business when she was 15 years old. She inherited the L'Oréal empire when her father passed away in 1957.
Liliane was rarely seen in public after she left the board of L'Oréal in 2012. In 2007 she made headlines when she became embroiled in a public feud with her then estranged daughter Francoise, who filed a lawsuit over concerns that her mother was being exploited by members of her entourage amid declining health. Celebrity photographer Francois-Marie Banier, a one-time society golden boy, was accused of using Liliane's frailty to accept almost $1bn worth of gifts, including paintings by Picasso, a 670-acre island in the Seychelles and a salary from L'Oréal.
Liliane was the heiress to cosmetics firm L’Oréal, and the richest woman in the world
The saga eventually resulted in a political scandal when it was claimed that Liliane's financial manager, Patrice de Maistre, had extracted money from her to go towards French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election bid. Mr Sarkozy rejected all accusations of impropriety and French prosecutors dropped all charges relating to him in 2013. The rest of the exploitation case was eventually resolved in May 2015 when eight people, including Mr Banier, were convicted and instructed to pay millions in damages to the family.
Liliane reconciled with Francoise in 2010, and her assets were placed in a trust controlled by her daughter. One of Liliane's two grandchildren, Jean-Victor Meyers, succeeded her as vice chairman on L'Oréal's board.