Thomas Kinkade's Death Sparks Feud Over Family, Art Secrets

Famous painter's girlfriend threatened to expose secrets, his family claims.

ByABC News
April 30, 2012, 1:12 PM

April 30, 2012— -- The death of painter Thomas Kinkade earlier this month has pitted Kinkade's family members and close friends against Kinkade's live-in girlfriend in a fight over his company, legacy and public image.

Kinkade died April 6 at his Northern California home, which he shared with his girlfriend and personal assistant, Amy Pinto-Walsh. Kinkade was still married but separated from his wife of 30 years, Nanette Kinkade.

Following Kinkade's death, Pinto-Walsh, 48, made statements to local newspapers saying that Kinkade had died in his sleep and that she was the one who'd called 911 from the home they shared. Pinto-Walsh also identified herself as Kinkade's girlfriend of 18 months, and disclosed that Kinkade and his wife had separated.

When asked about the cause of death by Los Gatos Patch website, Pinto-Walsh said she was not supposed to divulge that information, and that the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office would have more details, but that Kinkade had had a heart condition and died in his sleep.

A recording of the 911 call received by Santa Clara County Emergency Services indicated that Kinkade had been drinking heavily the night before he died, provoking widespread media coverage of Kinkade's battle with alcoholism.

Now the painter's widow and his estate are battling Pinto-Walsh over her comments, claiming she broke a confidentiality agreement when she spoke publicly about Kinkade's health and threatened to disclose information about his family and businesses.

Nanette Kinkade, Kinkade's business holdings and the Kinkade Family Trust filed a request for a restraining order against Pinto-Walsh in Santa Clara Superior Court, prohibiting her from speaking about Kinkade publicly.

In the court documents, the group claims that on the morning of Kinkade's death, Pinto-Walsh began "threatening to publicize highly personal, private and confidential information about Mr. Kinkade and his family, as well as trade secrets."

When Linda Rasch, a family friend, went to Kinkade's home upon learning of his death, Pinto-Walsh told Rasch she "intended to release personal photographs, papers and memorabilia" belonging to the painter, some of which involved his family, Rasch said in a declaration included in the court record.

Kinkade's body-guard, Dean Baker, wrote in a declaration that he "would expect Ms. Pinto-Walsh to disclose confidential information that would harm Mr. Kinkade's family and businesses should she have the opportunity to do so.

"On repeated occasions, Ms. Pinto-Walsh stated that she was 'gathering evidence' to harm Mr. Kinkade and the business," Baker wrote. "On one occasion, Ms. Pinto-Walsh made a threat to Mr. Kinkade along the lines of 'I will tear you down.'"'

The restraining order request also alleged that Pinto-Walsh was privy to information about how Kinkade created his paintings, including the types of paint and brushes, as well as "the use of computer technology" in painting.

"If these trade secrets were disclosed, the Kinkade businesses would suffer irreparable harm," wrote Robert Murray, the attorney for Kinkade businesses.

Pinto-Walsh had signed a confidentiality agreement when she began working as Kinkade's personal assistant, which the family accused her of breaking when she spoke to the media, according to the restraining order filing.

The restraining order was granted by the court but never served on Pinto-Walsh because the family decided to work the matter out privately, a source close to the family told ABC News. The two parties are now discussing how to proceed, though the restraining order could be served in the future.

Marcia Horowitz, a New York publicist hired by the Kinkade family and Kinkade businesses, said today that her clients would not be willing to speak publicly about the court filings against Kinkade's girlfriend.

Amy Pinto-Walsh could not be reached for comment.

Calls to Zuber and Taillieu, the attorneys representing Nanette Kinkade and the Kinkade businesses, were not returned.