Ivana Trump, ‘Every Bit as Ambitious as Donald,’ Has Died at Age 73
Ivana Trump, right, with the future President Donald Trump, in an undated photo featured in the FRONTLINE documentary "The Choice 2020."
Ivana Trump, who was married to former President Donald Trump from 1977 to 1992, died July 14, 2022, at age 73. The Trumps’ often tumultuous relationship and Ivana’s role in Donald’s business ventures featured in FRONTLINE’s documentary The Choice 2020.
In the documentary, those close to Ivana depicted her as a driven woman. After getting engaged to Donald in the 1970s, the model and Czech immigrant then named Ivana Zelníková, who would become the real estate developer’s first wife, made a comment that surprised a mutual friend.
“She said to me, ‘Oh, I’m going to go work for Donald,’” Nikki Haskell, host and producer of a 1980s television program featuring interviews with the rich and glamorous, told FRONTLINE in a 2016 interview.
“I said: ‘What? You’re getting married and you’re going to work? I never heard of anything like that. Don’t you get married not to go to work?’ She goes: ‘No, I told him that I want a job. Give me any job. I don’t care what it is. I can’t sit at home.’”
She didn’t. Of Ivana — who left behind three children with Donald, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — Donald Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told FRONTLINE, “The interesting thing about Ivana is I consider her to be every bit as ambitious as Donald and every bit as committed to remaking herself or creating herself.”
As the documentary explored, Donald and Ivana together headlined Trump’s biggest real estate project up to that point: New York City’s Trump Tower. As he expanded into Atlantic City, she became CEO of one of the casinos. And back in Manhattan, she took charge of the iconic Plaza Hotel.
“Ivana in the beginning, that was great,” former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci told FRONTLINE. “It was very refreshing. He had this powerful woman by his side, but it grew tiresome for him. And why did it grow tiresome for him? Because there are no co-stars in Trump’s orbit. There’s only one spotlight, and it’s on him.”
During Ivana’s renovation of the Plaza, the film reported, Trump’s resentment boiled over.
“We came in and saw the finished room, and the first thing, he didn’t like the furniture, and he started cursing out Ivana,” Barbara Res, a vice president in the Trump organization from 1980 to 1992, told FRONTLINE. “And he pulled the door off a piece of furniture, he was so angry. I never saw him so angry in my life. He was very scary that day. He was very, very angry.”
As the film recounted, while married to Ivana, Trump had an affair with the woman who would become his second wife, Marla Maples — and he leaked stories to feed the media firestorm, building on lessons from his mentor, the notorious McCarthy-era attorney Roy Cohn.
“One of the things he really learned from Roy was the manipulation of the celebrity press,” longtime Trump associate Roger Stone told FRONTLINE. “He plays them like a piano.”
“The tactics and techniques that he learned over time, that he picked up from Roy Cohn and his father, everything he gleaned from those people could be directed at the closest people in his life, including his wife,” The New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb told FRONTLINE.
Ivana and Donald’s split would be described as “the divorce of the century.” And as the film reported, their relationship taught him another life lesson: Never share power again.
“We’ve seen it in Trump’s presidency: When aides become too out-front in their own right, he reacts in ways that sort of shove those figures back down to maintain the role of primacy that he not only seeks, but needs,” Politico journalist Michael Kruse told FRONTLINE.
In a statement about Ivana’s death, Donald described her as “a wonderful, beautiful, and amazing woman, who led a great and inspirational life.”