Against all odds Steve Bing and Liz Hurley settled their differences but even this was not enough to protect him from his demons, writes Donal Lynch
In the place he called home for 10 years, the Bel Air Hotel in LA, there might have been someone to stop Steve Bing. A friendly groundskeeper might have seen him, a maid might have walked in on him. But in the relative anonymity of a luxury skyscraper in Century City, there was no one to intervene as he walked into mid-air and fell 27 stories to his death.
A passer-by photographed his bloodied body. For a man who loathed more than anything being stalked by paparazzi, it was the final violation.
Bing had suffered from depression. He was reported to have found the isolation of lockdown difficult. But the real reasons why he took his own life may never be known. In fact he still had much going for him. He was still fabulously wealthy, with a fortune in the billions. He had forged a once unthinkable bond with his biological children, Damian Hurley and Kira Kerkorian, and spoke to the latter on Father's Day. And, even more against the odds, he seemed to have made real peace with their mothers.
One of these, Liz Hurley, posted a gallery of photographs showing her with her former boyfriend. She told her 1.7 million Instagram followers that she was "saddened beyond belief that my ex Steve is no longer with us".
She added: "It is a terrible end. Our time together was very happy and I'm posting these pictures because although we went through some tough times, it's the good, wonderful memories of a sweet, kind man that matter. In the past year we had become close again. We last spoke on our son's 18th birthday. This is devastating news."
Damian posted a picture of a sunset, along with the caption acknowledging that "this is a very strange and confusing time and I'm immensely grateful to be surrounded by my phenomenal family and friends".
Lisa Bonder, a former tennis pro (she once reached the fourth round of Wimbledon and had a win over Chris Evert), with whom Bing had also fathered a child, recalled "a kind person, a good man" who was "misunderstood in many ways".
Even allowing for the conventions of death and civility, the women's effusive praise of Bing was, in some ways, surprising. He had, after all, once publicly denied fathering children with either of them, surely not a slight easily forgotten. In the spring of 2002 following an on-off 18-month romance with Bing, Hurley gave birth to a boy, Damian Charles, who she claimed was Bing's son.
Bing said he was not so sure, and sued her to have a paternity test performed on the baby. His fatherhood was finally confirmed and he did himself no favours by issuing a press release in which he said that Hurley had "chosen" to be a single mother. It was reported that she had been pressured by him to have an abortion.
It was tawdry yet glamorous, Gatsby by way of Jerry Springer, and ignited a sort of Anglo-American media war. Vanity Fair discussed the possibility that Hurley was a "gold digger" and - complete with quotes from Bing's 'friends' - wondered whether her "waning" Hollywood career had anything to do with her attraction to a billionaire. The UK tabloids, meanwhile, massed their tanks on the lawn in defence of Liz. They called him 'Bing Laden'. The Daily Mirror actually printed a 'wanted' poster of him on its front page and included his office phone number.
While all this was going on Bing became involved in another messy episode of Who's The Daddy.
In the early summer of 2002 fellow billionaire Kirk Kerkorian - father of Lisa Bonder - claimed that there was a 99% chance that Bing was the true father of then four-year-old Kira. Kerkorian, then 85, said he proved this after he had an associate rummage through Bing's bins, where he found a piece of dental floss, from which a DNA sample was obtained; Bing, in turn, sued Kerkorian for $5bn for invasion of privacy and other causes.
Yet somehow, at the time of Bing's death, this was all water under the bridge. Over the years he forged at least cordial relationships with both women, and in recent times these became warmer still. In the days after Bing's death, the women vowed to support each other in their grief.
Bing himself grew up knowing his family was wealthy but without really experiencing that wealth. The family was frugal: they always flew economy and drove around in clapped-out cars. His father, Peter Bing, was a doctor who worked for JFK and Lyndon Johnson in public health, and he drilled into them the idea of never being ostentatious with money. His mother, Helen, is a former nurse, who was similarly modest in her spending.
It was the generation before them, Bing's paternal grandfather, from which the family derived its great wealth. In the early 20th century Leo Bing was one of the most successful property developers in Manhattan, and a theatre in the Los Angeles Museum of Art was named after him.
Leo gave his grandson both his middle name and the bulk of his fortune, of around $600m, which Steve inherited in 1983, when he was 18. The frugal life was over - though he would continue to wear ripped jeans and T-shirts - and Bing began spending the family money with aplomb.
He dropped out of Stanford in his third year to try to make it in Hollywood, armed with a huge chequebook. Over the next decade he wrote two movies that never got made and one episode of Married ... with Children that did. In 1996 he founded Shangri-La Entertainment and got an eight-picture deal with Warner Bros.
His biggest success came in 2004 when he invested $80m in The Polar Express, a Tom Hanks-voiced animated feature, which ended up being one of the most popular films of the year. He co-wrote the 2003 comedy Kangaroo Jack, which was savaged by critics but made nearly $90m at the box office. He was also a producer on Martin Scorsese's 2008 Rolling Stones documentary Shine a Light, and a co-producer, with Mick Jagger, on a forthcoming documentary on Jerry Lee Lewis.
He was one of the biggest donors to the Democratic Party in the US, which won him both friends in high places and some shady acquaintances. He was close to Bill Clinton (who said shortly after the tragedy that he "loved" Bing) - he had given at least $10m to the Clinton Foundation - and he and Clinton were friends of Jeffrey Epstein, the deceased paedophile financier and friend of Prince Andrew.
In 2009, Bing helped in the return of two US journalists from North Korea: he owned the plane that flew Laura Ling and Euna Lee back to America, along with Clinton, who had travelled to Pyongyang to win their release.
It was his playboy image that really made him famous, however. He would book out restaurants for his famous friends and picked up the tab. He spent nearly a decade living at the Bel Air Hotel, and he was friends with Jagger and Hugh Hefner. Bing was never seen to touch so much as a cigarette but his real vice was women. He was a regular visitor to the Playboy Mansion and he reportedly had dalliances with Farrah Fawcett, Sharon Stone, Naomi Campbell, and Uma Thurman.
He met Hurley in 2000 when she had just separated from Hugh Grant after a 13-year relationship. Bing reportedly wooed her with private jets, chunky gold Rolex watches, sapphire and diamond rings and all-expenses-paid trips to New York and Europe.
The pair spent a lot of time together at his suite at the Bel Air and holidayed at Elton John's home in Nice. However, when Hurley found out she was pregnant it quickly descended into one of the most controversial paternity suits in Hollywood history.
According to the Daily Telegraph, when she broke the news to him at his home in Los Angeles, he urged her to have an abortion, which she refused to do. He then suggested therapy, which she also declined.
"Ms Hurley and I were not in an exclusive relationship when she became pregnant. It is her choice to be a single mother," he said in a statement, but vowed to be "extremely involved and responsible" if he was found to be the father.
Bing's sister Mary gave an interview to Vanity Fair in which she accused Hurley of having "reproductively taken advantage" of her brother. Steve, she said, had been "snookered into being a parent".
Liz took the high road. "I loved Stephen enormously during the 18 months we were together. Contrary to erroneous reports, we were still very much happy together when I discovered I was pregnant," she said, adding, "I was completely loyal and faithful to Stephen throughout this time as, indeed, he assured me he was to me."
Liz said that they were "too nice" to get legal on each other, but Steve's father Peter attempted to legally deny Damian his inheritance.
In March of last year, following enquiries by Damian's half-sister Kira as to her entitlement under her grandfather's trust, one of the trustees filed court papers seeking to clarify the meaning of the term "grandchild".
The documents sought to exclude "any children born out of wedlock unless that person had lived for a substantial period of time as a regular member of the household".
If approved, the interpretation would have resulted in the disinheritance of both Damian and Kira under the terms of the trust. In his written evidence, Peter Bing testified that regardless of whether Damian and Steve had a relationship, he - Peter - did not consider Damian a grandchild of his.
Last summer a court in California ruled that Bing senior's claim that he didn't consider Damian a grandchild was irrelevant for the purposes of the trust.
Judge Daniel Juarez said: "Although wills are to be construed in accordance with the testator's intent, it is the intent expressed by the words of the will itself which must be given effect rather than some undisclosed purpose or intent that may have existed in the mind of the testator."
Liz for her part said that Steve has "provided financially for Damian's support" and that she and Steve had had joint custody of Damian since his birth. She accused Peter of having "misdirected anger" towards Steve that has "nothing to do with Damian".
She also said that she never wanted financial support from the Bings, adding that in fact the battle was really between Steve and Peter.
"Following legal proceedings, opposed by me, it appears that one cannot stop someone trying to give you money. Fortunately one can refuse to accept it," she said. "This I have done."
Steve accused his own father of "orchestrating a massive money-grab" with his sister Mary.
Whether the fortune means that Damian Hurley becomes 'one of the richest teenagers in the world', as has been reported, remains to be seen.
He and Kira stand to inherit Bing's billions but, at the time of their father's death, Steve had already pledged to donate most of his money to charity; further legal challenges may loom.
His belated batting for them against his own father may have brought him closer to his children's mothers, however. It meant that the emotional, if not the financial, loose ends were tied up. And perhaps it also meant, as Bill Clinton wished for him, that this lonely billionaire had "finally found peace".