Former employee Charles Bell sued her in 2002, claiming that she fired him for being homosexual. He was paid $554,000 in damages.
Donald Trump, who often tangled with Helmsley and once called her "a horrible, horrible human being," was more gracious in his remarks at her passing. "Leona Helmsley was definitely one of a kind," said the real-estate mogul in a statement. "Harry loved being with her and the excitement she brought -- and that is all that really matters."
Born Leona Mindy Rosenthal, she was raised in working-class Coney Island and worked as a teenage model. Ever ambitious, she changed her name to Leona Roberts and started working as a receptionist at a real estate company, but quickly became a broker selling condominiums. After two failed marriages, in 1968 she met real estate magnate Harry B. Helmsley, who left his longtime wife to marry her in 1972.
"Leona was a great businesswoman in her own right who created a tremendous brand and success with Helmsley Hotels and was a wonderful partner and wife to Harry Helmsley," spokesman Howard Rubenstein said in a statement, adding "I was very proud to represent her for so many years."
She is survived by her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Her only child, son Jay Panzirer, died in 1982 after suffering a heart attack. According to Rubenstein, there will be a private service in New York soon and a public memorial in a month.