NEW YORK - Martha "Sunny" von Bulow, 76, the heiress who spent the last 28 years of her life in oblivion after what prosecutors alleged were two murder attempts by her husband, died Saturday.
She died at a nursing home in New York, her children said in a statement issued by family spokeswoman Maureen Connelly.
Ms. von Bulow was a personification of romantic notions about high society - a stunning heiress who brought her American millions to marriages to men who gave her honored old European names.
But she ended her days in a coma, giving no sign of awareness as she was visited by her children and tended around the clock by nurses.
She was the offstage presence that haunted the two sensational trials of her husband, Claus von Bulow, in Newport and Providence, R.I.
At the first trial, in 1982, Claus von Bulow was convicted of trying twice to kill her by injecting her with insulin at their estate in Newport, R.I. That verdict was thrown out on appeal, and he was acquitted at a second trial in 1985.
The murder case split Newport society, produced lurid headlines, and was later made into the 1990 film
Reversal of Fortune
, starring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons.
Claus von Bulow is now living in London, "mostly taking care of his grandchildren," said Alan Dershowitz, the defense lawyer who handled the appeal and won his acquittal at the second trial. He wrote the book
Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case
, on which the movie was based.
Dershowitz said there was "overwhelming" evidence that her coma was self-induced - caused by a "large ingestion of drugs, and Claus had nothing to do with it," Dershowitz said.
"There are no winners in a case like this," he added.
Claus von Bulow's main accusers were his wife's children by a previous marriage, Princess Annie Laurie von Auersperg Kneissl and Prince Alexander von Auersperg. They renewed the charges against their stepfather in a civil lawsuit a month after his acquittal.
Two years later, Claus von Bulow agreed to give up any claims to his wife's estimated $25 million-to-$40 million fortune and to the $120,000-a-year income of a trust she set up for him. He also agreed to divorce her, leave the country, and never profit from their story.
Prosecutors contended that Claus von Bulow wanted to get rid of his wife to inherit a large hunk of her wealth and be free to marry a mistress.
Claus Von Bulow was accused of injecting his wife with insulin first in December 1979, causing a coma from which she revived. Prosecutors said he tried again a year later, on Dec. 21, 1980, and the 49-year-old heiress fell into an irreversible coma.
She was born Martha Sharp Crawford in Pittsburgh, daughter of utilities tycoon George Crawford, who died when she was 4.
"Sunny," nicknamed for her disposition, was raised by her mother in New York City.
While touring Europe with her mother, she met Prince Alfred von Auersperg, who was younger, penniless and working as the tennis pro at an Austrian resort catering to rich Americans. They were married in 1957 and divorced eight years later after she returned alone to New York with their young son and daughter.
On June 6, 1966, she married von Bulow, who then quit his job as an aide to oilman J. Paul Getty.