Jack Kent Cooke was a notable American sports figure from the ’60s until his death in 1997. He owned some of the country’s biggest sports franchises and was a pretty popular owner among his teams’ fans. His success as a businessman helped him build massive wealth. He wasn’t as successful in his personal life, unfortunately, having experienced several divorces.
As you might expect, following his death there was a battle for his estate, which totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. Here’s what happened.
Jack Kent Cooke’s business empire
A Canadian native, Cooke built his business empire in the media industry, starting with the 1945 purchase of a Canadian TV station. Three years later, according to the History of Canadian Broadcasting, Cookie bought the Canadian version of Liberty magazine three years later. He made his first foray into the sports world in 1951, buying the minor-league Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team. But he had higher aspirations.
Cooke sought to bring the first MLB team to Toronto, but he failed in buying the St. Louis Browns, Philadelphia Athletics, and Detroit Tigers. Cooke moved to the U.S. in the early ’60s and started buying cable TV companies. In 1979, he bought New York’s iconic Chrysler Building, and he purchased the Los Angeles Daily News in 1985.
Cooke’s sports franchises
Cooke bought his first American sports franchise in 1961 when he acquired a 25% stake in the Redskins; he would become the team’s majority owner in 1974 and its sole owner in 1985, reports Sports Illustrated. Cooke paid $5 million for the Lakers in 1965.
In 1966 he was awarded the rights to the NHL’s first franchise in LA, with the Kings starting play in 1967. As part of that deal, he built the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Cooke sold the Lakers, Kings, and arena to Jerry Buss in 1979. Dan Snyder bought the Redskins from Cooke’s foundation following his death.
Cooke’s personal life
Cooke was married five times. Two of his marriages — including the one he was in when he died — were to the same woman, Marlene Ramallo Chalmers.
The first marriage
His longest marriage was his first; he wed Barbara Jean Carnegie in 1934, and they divorced in 1979. They had two sons together, but the divorce was costly for Cooke. She was awarded $42 million, in what was the largest divorce settlement up to that point.
The second marriage
Cooke married Las Vegas sculptor Jeanne Maxwell Williams in 1980, but they divorced 10 months later, with her getting a $1 million settlement.
The shortest marriage
Cooke’s third marriage was his shortest, at just 73 days. In 1987, reports Page Six, he married 31-year-old Suzanne Elizabeth Martin, who was 43 years younger than him. He agreed to marry her if she agreed to abort her fetus.
But after the wedding, she changed her mind and gave birth to daughter Jacqueline after the divorce. Because she signed a prenuptial agreement, Martin didn’t get a divorce settlement. But Jacqueline received a $5 million trust fund in Cooke’s will.
Cooke married Chalmers for the first time in 1990. They divorced in 1993. They remarried in 1995 and were still together at the time of his death.
The battle over Jack Kent Cooke’s estate
Cooke established an estate worth $825 million, with most of that money being used to establish the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. But there were some lawsuits filed over his estate. Chalmers was cut out of his will, and she sued his estate.
According to the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, she received a $20 million settlement about a year after he died. Daughter Jacqueline wasn’t happy with her $5 million trust fund, and she sued her birth father’s estate in 2007 for $275 million.