This summer NYC Prep, the reality television version of Gossip Girl, debuted on Bravo. As cameras invaded the lives of a group of some of New York City's most privileged heirs, a bad boy has emerged: PC Peterson.
PC, an aspiring actor who regularly flaunts the obvious missive "money is power," has the Internet abuzz with his diva-like behavior. His smug mug recently graced the pages of New York Magazine, which quoted him saying "people want to strive to act like an a------." In a recent episode he was seen moving chairs around, with his voice piping over the scene, "I'm not really used to manual labor."
Looking on in horror: PC's grandfather, Peter G. Peterson. The son of Greek immigrants, the elder Peterson was Commerce Secretary under Nixon and became chairman of Lehman Brothers in 1973 before co-founding investment giant Blackstone Group with Steven Schwarzman in 1985. Last year he ranked 147th on the Forbes list of the 400 Richest Americans with a net worth of $2.8 billion. He has committed much of his fortune to philanthropy.
In his recently released memoirs, The Education of an American Dreamer, Peterson dismisses some of his former colleagues as "spoiled and ungrateful schmucks" for their obsession with money and fame. He could just as easily be referring to his own flesh and blood.
For all its benefits, inherited wealth can often be something of a curse, allowing a second or third generation accustomed to living large the freedom to pursue pastimes both noble and nefarious.
Perhaps the most scandal-plagued billionaire heir is Paris Hilton, granddaughter of hotelier William Baron Hilton. Paris vaulted to infamy in 2003 after a video featuring her having sex with her ex-boyfriend was leaked to the Internet without her permission. In 2007, she spent a short time in prison for breaking her probation agreement relating to an earlier charge of driving under the influence.
Still, Paris has parlayed her infamy into serious cash. Hilton made $8 million between June 2008 and June 2009 from various fashion contracts, appearance fees and television pay.
Drug busts have also been the undoing of some of the world's soon-to-be wealthiest.
Last April, Hans-Kristian Rausing, son of packaging billionaire Hans Rausing, was charged along with his wife, Eva, of cocaine and heroin possession. The couple, which moves in royal circles (Prince Charles is considered a family friend), got in trouble after Eva allegedly tried to smuggle drugs in her handbag into the American Embassy in London. The couple's $8 million mansion was later searched and drugs were allegedly found there as well.
Hans Kristian Rausing's family issued a statement saying they were "deeply saddened" by the events leading up to the arrests and vowed to help the couple overcome their addictions. Charges were dropped in lieu of the couple seeking drug counseling.
Meanwhile, tough love was the order of the day for Fredrick B. "Cannon" Smith, son of billionaire FedEx chief Frederick Smith. In 2007 Cannon was packed off to military academy for a year after being caught in possession of ecstasy. He is now a quarterback for the University of Miami.
In 2005, Michael O'Brien Pickens, son of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, was accused of "pumping and dumping" stocks on the thinly traded "Pink Sheets" and OTC Bulletin Board markets. He allegedly netted $300,000 from the scheme.
After pleading guilty, he was ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution. His father picked up the tab.
Some parents are even more accommodating. Virgin tycoon Richard Branson and son Sam reportedly smoked cannabis together while the two were on a surfing trip in Australia. "I don't think smoking the occasional spliff is all that wrong. I'd rather my son did it in front of me than behind closed doors," the elder Branson apparently said.