It looks like 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch isn’t ready just yet to take another chance on love — at least not with Ann Lesley Smith, the 66-year-old former dental hygienist-turned-conservative radio host, previously married to older and much wealthier husbands from Northern California.
Citing sources close to the Fox Corporation chairman, Vanity Fair reported Tuesday that Murdoch and Smith had abruptly called off their engagement, which was announced last month on the front page of his New York Post.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) March 20, 2023
A source close to Murdoch told Vanity Fair writer Gabriel Sherman that the billionaire founder of conservative Fox News had become “increasingly uncomfortable” with Smith’s “outspoken evangelical views.” A spokesperson for Rupert Murdoch declined to comment, Sherman said. But it looks like there won’t be a planned summer wedding, or that Murdoch and Smith will be spending “the second half of our lives together,” as Murdoch told the New York Post.
The breakup ends a whirlwind romance that generated headlines around the world, as well as a lot of questions about Smith. One wonders if the wily Murdoch also saw some of the less than favorable headlines about his attractive fiancee, including the fact that certain details of her life remain sketchy, or that her first two marriages ended in bitter and protracted legal fights over money.
In several interviews in recent years, Smith liked to portray herself living a “rags-to-riches” storyline that became even more fulfilling when, she said, Jesus and prayer brought new meaning into her life.
“When you let the Lord take control of your life, you can make it,” Smith once told the Christian Broadcasting Network. “Out of the ruins you can rise, and let the oil of his anointing just be all over you.”
Smith said she found Jesus after surviving a turbulent first marriage in the 1980s to the much-older John B. Huntington, a scion of one of San Francisco’s most prominent families.
It’s not known where Smith was born or grew up. But by the time she was 28, she had given up her job as a dental hygienist to marry the 47-year-old Huntington and join his high-society whirl which included a Tiburon estate, a Lake Tahoe vacation home, philanthropic endeavors, gala openings and a clothing budget of up to $65,000 a month.
After the couple separated in 1989, Smith launched an unsuccessful court fight to extend spousal support, according to court records. She said she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the “painful” relationship that she claimed included Huntington’s alleged abuse and alcoholism.
Following the divorce, Smith told CBN that she had to go on welfare and became suicidal but found redemption through faith and worked for a time as a street preacher in Marin County.
At some point, Smith met her second husband, Chester Smith, a Modesto-based former country music star who became wealthy by buying up independent local TV stations. He married her, just after divorcing his first wife, Naomi, whom he had been married to for 42 years, according to the Daily Mail. He was 74 at the time, while his new bride was 27 years his junior.
Early in their marriage, Chester and Ann Lesley Smith cut a country music album together titled “Captured in Love.” The album cover shows Smith dressed in a police uniform; she told the Modesto Bee that she met her very devout Christian husband when she was working as a prison chaplain.
That marriage ended with Chester Smith’s death in 2008, but another court fight erupted. The late mogul’s three adult daughters went to court to have Smith removed as the executor of his will, claiming that their stepmother had engaged in “financial elder abuse” and failed to give them money their father had left for them. The case was eventually settled with Smith restored as trustee.
Smith reportedly continued to live on her husband’s ranch outside Modesto. She also stayed in the public eye at least somewhat by hosting a weekly talk show, “Ann Lesley Live,” on the conservative news station, Power Talk 1360, as the Modesto Bee reported.
“The things I talk about usually are things I’ve been through,” Smith told the Modesto Bee in 2017.
Five years later, Smith met Murdoch, just as he was ending his fourth marriage to former model Jerry Hall last August. Murdoch was previously married to former flight attendant Patricia Booker, journalist Anna Murdoch and entrepreneur Wendi Deng. Murdoch told the New York Post that Smith attended a gathering at his vineyard in Bel Air in September.
“I was very nervous,” Murdoch said of their romance. “I dreaded falling in love – but I knew this would be my last. It better be. I’m happy.”
The News Corp founder proposed on St. Patrick’s Day. Smith said they bonded over their shared knowledge of the media industry. They were photographed in January in Barbados, where Smith and a male aide appeared to be helping Murdoch walk through some waves along a beach.
Marriage made in …
Rupert Murdoch engaged to Ann Lesley Smith.
I’m not joking. pic.twitter.com/DBi5pfaNa0
— Joline Gutierrez Krueger 🤦🏾♀️🖋🗒👩🏽💻📰🇺🇦 (@jolinegkg) March 20, 2023
Murdoch’s adult children from his second marriage to Anna Murdoch — Elisabeth, Lachlan and James — were reportedly relieved that Smith had no children of her own, which could have complicated the already-complicated succession battle over the future of the Murdoch empire, Sherman reported. Those children weren’t happy about Murdoch’s third marriage to Wendi Deng in 1999 — less than a month after his divorce from Anna March — because they didn’t want Murdoch and Deng’s children to receive voting shares in the family trust that controls the media empire.
Those messy succession issues didn’t come up in the New York Post interview with Murdoch and Smith, in which she explained the things they had in common.
“Like Rupert, my husband was a businessman,” Smith told the Post. “Worked for local papers, developed radio and TV stations and helped promote Univision. So I speak Rupert’s language. We share the same beliefs.”
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