The French-born Dr. Maxwell, as she liked to be known after receiving a doctorate at age 60 from the University of Oxford, spent 46 years as the dutiful wife of her hard-charging husband. She bore him nine children — two of whom died young — and accompanied Maxwell, a onetime member of the British Parliament, to glamorous gatherings around the world.
She claimed ignorance of her husband’s financial dealings, which eventually led to the collapse of his business empire after he was found dead in November 1991, floating near his yacht in the Atlantic Ocean. Three years later, she wrote an autobiography, “A Mind of My Own: My Life With Robert Maxwell,” as a way to reclaim her identity and to generate money after her husband’s downfall plunged her into poverty. Reporters noted that she had been reduced to a single maid.
“I was left with colossal debts,” Dr. Maxwell told London’s Sunday Times in 1994. “Everything he had given me was taken away.”
At the time of his death near the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, the Czech-born Maxwell owned the Mirror group of British newspapers, the Macmillan publishing company and the New York Daily News, among dozens of other properties. He was juggling so many financial interests that it was inevitable, many observers believed, that everything would come crashing down. The British press dubbed him the “bouncing Czech.”
Two autopsies were inconclusive, and rumors swirled about whether Maxwell died by murder or suicide — or whether the 290-pound press baron simply fell overboard, perhaps after a heart attack. A London tabloid owned by his rival, Rupert Murdoch, pointedly asked, “Did he fall . . . Did he jump?”
After Maxwell’s death, his various businesses were sold off, and it came to light that the mogul had looted his companies’ pension funds of more than $1 billion. Two of his sons, who worked with him, faced fraud charges but were cleared after a trial.
Dr. Maxwell did not receive a settlement after her husband died, she wrote, because insurance companies suspected he may have committed suicide.
In any case, Dr. Maxwell saw her husband as many people did: often charming, always demanding and sometimes tyrannical. He belittled his wife in front of others, correcting her grammar and calling her ignorant.
Yet, in her autobiography, she still seemed besotted, describing her husband in the extravagant prose of a romance novel: “He was next to me, powerful, extremely seductive, persuasive, piercing me with those blazing eyes of his which in turn coaxed me and cut me to the heart.”
In interviews, her appraisals were more nuanced.
“He loved me to the end in spite of all the ups and downs,” she told the Associated Press. “But if I’d left, he would have respected me more.”