Doris Duke

Credits / Citations


b. Somerville, NJ, November 22, 1912.

d. Beverly Hills, CA, October 28, 1993.


Christened "the Million-Dollar Baby"; on his death bed, dying father James B. Duke quips "Trust no one."  Upon his death, Doris, almost 13, earns title "the richest girl in the world," inheriting $100 million. 


In 1922, James purchased Newport estate known as "Rough Point."  The house, c. 1887-1891, was built for Frederick W. Vanderbilt by architectural firm Peabody & Stearns. Duke is the third owner (previous owners were Vanderbilt and William B. Leeds).  In this house Doris makes debut into society on August 23, 1930. 


In late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Duke feuds with city over Cliff Walk "right of way."  Erects hedge and wire fence blocking access to the Cliff Walk in front of estate. 


Only child of American Tobacco Company founder James Buchanan Duke (benefactor of Duke University). 


Heiress to the American Tobacco fortune; one of the richest women in America; international jet-setter; maintains controversial lifestyle.  A private person, lived isolated life, traveled incognito, eccentric, recluse in later life. 


Married and divorced twice; only child (a daughter) dies within 24 hours of birth; romantically linked to Errol Flynn, George S. Patton, Jr., and others. 


Friday, October 7, 1966, car accident;  Eduardo Tirella, 42, is crushed against heavy iron entrance gates on Bellevue Avenue; dragged across street as car slams into tree.  Dies instantly from brain injuries; Duke admitted to Newport Hospital for facial cuts and shock.  Duke is not interrogated by police until few days later.    Duke would claim Tirella had been driving, got out from the station wagon to open the estate side gates.  Now behind the wheel - her foot drops accidentally on accelerator and car suddenly leaps forward.   Police Chief, Joseph A. Radice describes the situation as "an unfortunate accident" and "as far as I am concerned, the case is closed."  Investigation concluded within a week.  Within a week of accident, it is announced - Duke gives $25,000 towards the restoring of Cliff Walk. 

 Local stories abound: 

  - The deal concerning Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) was cut the night of the accident. 

  - Duke murders chauffeur "lover" 

  - Duke conspires in police cover-up 

  - Police chief retires in response 


  - Tirella was an interior decorator and companion of Duke 

  - Police Chief Radice does announce retirement five months later, a 40-year veteran of Newport Police Department. 

 Vague and questionable aspects still surround the case today. 


Doris Duke & the Newport Restoration Foundation: 

 Not to be confused with the Preservation Society of Newport County, the Newport Restoration Foundation (a.k.a. NRF) was incorporated on October 30, 1968.  This non-profit, private organization was established "in order to preserve and restore the historic architecture of the 18th and early 19th centuries in Newport, Rhode Island." 

The foundation bought and restored 57 buildings by 1977 and now has 84 (83 restored) buildings under ownership and management.  Located throughout Newport, most are within the "Point" and "Historic Hill" sections.  The homes, commonly known as "Duke houses," are leased to private individuals. 

Well-known properties include: Prescott Farm (c. 1715 - c. 1812) in Portsmouth, R.I.; Samuel Whitehorne House (c. 1811) at #416 Thames Street.  Lesser known: John Davis House (c. 1804) at #68 William Street and New Jersey House (c. 1800) at #72 Spring Street. 

The NRF has benefited Newport greatly, however, historians have questioned the moving and relocation of many buildings from their original locations and houses have been imported to Newport from places such as New Jersey. 

 Historically, the City of Newport lacked the commonly seen landscape associated with many colonial towns in New England - that of a town square or green surrounding the community church.  This is historically significant as it represents the beliefs of the founding fathers - those of religious freedom and separation of church and state.  Queen Anne Square (dedicated in 1976), located in front of Trinity Church, was fabricated by the NRF by the removal of buildings and homes, perhaps in an attempt to conform Newport’s landscape to that of the "typical" New England colonial town. 


Duke tends to spend summer and fall months at Newport estate.  In later years, Duke’s camels were present on the grounds.  Due to fear of kidnapping, Rough Point surrounded by high barbed wire fence.  Specified in will, estate to be turned into public museum. Location:  the southeast property at the end corner of Bellevue Avenue. 


Mysterious death, ensuing court battles over Duke fortune.  Leaves more than $1 billion to charity.  "Doris Duke Charitable Foundation" - environmental causes, medical research, prevention of cruelty to children and animals.  $100 thousand trust fund set for her dog.  



"James B. Duke," Newport Mercury, 17 October 1925. 


Newport Mercury, 31 October 1925,  p. 1, col. 3. 


"Doris Duke Kills Friend In Crash," Newport Daily News, 8 October 1966. 


"Miss Duke Driver In Fatal Accident - Heiress’s Car Runs Over a House Guest in Newport," New York Times, 8 October 1966. 


"Police Waiting to Question Miss Duke in Car Fatality," New York Times, 9 October 1966. 


"Death of Miss Duke’s Friend Ruled ‘Unfortunate Accident’," Newport Daily News, 10 October 1966. 


"Doris Duke is Questioned by Police in Fatal Crash," New York Times, 10 October 1966. 


"Duke Estate Death Called Accidental," New York Times, 11 October 1966. 


"Duke Probe Still ‘Open’," Newport Daily News, 11 October 1966. 


"Duke Fatality Case Closed by Police; Nugent is Silent," Newport Daily News, 13 October 1966. 


"Doris Duke Gives $25,000 to Restore Cliff Walk," Newport Daily News, 15 October 1966. 


"Police Chief Ponders Retirement June 30," Newport Daily News, 20 March 1967. 


"Radice Gives Retiring Date," Newport Daily News, 26 April 1967. 


"Walsh Named Chief of Newport Police," Newport Daily News, 29 May 1967. 


Katz, Celeste. "Duke Foundation Lists First Grants," Providence Journal, 10 December 1997. 


Ziner, Karen Lee. "Doris Duke, ‘poor little rich girl,’ dies at 80," Providence Journal, 29 October 1993. 


Abbot, Elizabeth. "In Newport, the Legacy of Doris Duke," New York Times Sunday, 7 September 1997. 


Benson, Esther Fisher.  "The Restoration Movement in Newport, Rhode Island from 1963 to 1976," Newport History:  Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society. Newport: Newport Historical Society. Vol. 57, Part 2, No.194 (Spring 1984): 38-59. 


Duke, Pony and Jason Thomas. Too Rich: The Family Secrets of Doris Duke. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1996. 


Foreman, John and Robbe Pierce Stimson. The Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. 259-269. 


Jordy, William H. and Christopher P. Monkhouse. Buildings on Paper: Rhode Island Architectural Drawings 1825-1945. Brown University, The Rhode Island Historical Society, Rhode Island School of Design, 1982. 228, 229. 


Mansfield, Stephanie. The Richest Girl in the World. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1992. 


Newport City Directory (1905-1925). 


Newport Restoration Foundation. The Newport Restoration Foundation. Southborough, MA: Yankee Colour Corporation, 1977. 


Valentine, Tom, and Patrick Mahn. Daddy’s Duchess: The Unauthorized Biography of Doris Duke. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1987.  




Researcher/Writer: Brian Stinson

Project Editors: Lynda Bronaugh, Jennifer K. Caswell, Christian-Albrecht Gollub, Brian Stinson

Funded by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities

©1997-2004 Redwood Library.  This material may not be reproduced or distributed without permission.


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