Marilyn Miglin, cosmetics queen, former Home Shopping Network host and wife of slain real estate developer, dead at 83

She died Monday in Chicago surrounded by family.

SHARE Marilyn Miglin, cosmetics queen, former Home Shopping Network host and wife of slain real estate developer, dead at 83
Marilyn Miglin, cosmetics tycoon, died Monday. She was 83.

Marilyn Miglin, cosmetics tycoon, died Monday. She was 83.

Sun-Times file

Marilyn Miglin, the cosmetics magnate, former Home Shopping Network host and wife of murdered real estate developer Lee Miglin, died Monday.

Mrs. Miglin, 83, was surrounded by family when she died in Chicago, according to an announcement posted on the website of the Chicago cosmetic company that bears her name.

She died of complications from a stroke, her son Duke Miglin said.

Her husband Lee Miglin was murdered in 1997 by Andrew Cunanan, who killed five people over the course of three months, including fashion designer Gianni Versace. The crimes made worldwide news.

“Marilyn and Lee Miglin, among Chicago’s highest-profile couples in social and business circles, were each self-made,” former Sun-Times entertainment columnist Bill Zwecker wrote in a profile of the couple after Lee Miglin’s death. “The future Mrs. Miglin was 21 when she met the real estate developer, who scandalized her with a kiss on their first date. Six weeks later, he proposed.”

They were married for 38 years and also had a daughter, Marlena.

“She loved him every single day,” their son said. “It never stopped. They were a magical couple, and the love they had for each other was unbelievable.” 

Before the tragedy thrust her into the headlines, Mrs. Miglin was known primarily as a model-turned-cosmetics tycoon. She launched her cosmetics business on Oak Street in the 1960s to provide makeup services to professional models, like herself, who until then often would travel to New York for supplies. 

Mrs. Miglin, a longtime Gold Coast resident, helped transform Oak Street into one of the city’s most chic shopping blocks. She helped organize and formerly headed the Oak Street Council of merchants and built her business into a multimillion-dollar cosmetics company.

The street is marked by an honorary sign: “Marilyn Miglin Way.”

Mrs. Miglin hawked many of her products as a host on the Home Shopping Network for 25 years.

The Miglins were visiting the Great Pyramid in Egypt when she learned about the fragrances that pharaohs tried to bring with them to the afterlife and thought, “I’d love the ingredients,” her friend Sugar Rautbord said.

“She hired someone to translate ancient hieroglyphs describing the fragrances and had a batch brewed up, but it was just too strong and heavy and musky and penetrating,” Rautbord said. “It was deadly. And she said, ‘No, no. I think it needs to be toned down for the modern American woman.’ ”

The result was a scent she called Pheromone, which was sold in department stores all over the country, Rautbord said.

Mrs. Miglin didn’t just sell beauty products.

“She would show women how to use and take care of their skin and appearance and teach women how to use makeup to feel better about yourself and feel good out in public and give you confidence,” her son said.

For years Mrs. Miglin did volunteer work with the Craniofacial Center, which is part of the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, to show burn victims and others with facial deformities how to apply makeup and use other beauty products.

“She really wanted to help give them confidence to go back out and feel good about themselves,” Duke Miglin said. 

“She was a very unusual unique person in the world and then when she came to this place she was just incredible,” said Dr. David Reisberg, former head of the center. “She had an ability to inspire patients to go our in public and not hide at home and be valuable to people.” 

She realized what she could offer after an encounter at her Oak Street store with Michele McBride, a young woman who’d been badly burned in the Our Lady of the Angels School fire, in which 92 students and three nuns died.

“My mother saw her almost come into her store but then quickly turn around and leave,” Duke Miglin said. “She went outside to see why she did not come in, and it was then that she saw that Michele had been burned over half her body while escaping the fire. My mother walked her in to her store, and that is when she found out about the Craniofacial Institute for burn victims.”

Mrs. Miglin grew up in Chicago as Marilyn Klecka. Her mother was from Poland and her father was from the former Czechoslovakia. Her father died when she was 11, and her mother went to work for a lingerie company.

Mrs. Miglin graduated from Schurz High School on the Northwest Side and attended Northwestern University on a math scholarship but never graduated because she needed to work to help support herself and her family, her son said.

Her jobs included nurse’s assistant, department store model, ballet teacher and dancer at the legendary Chez Paree nightclub, where she performed alongside entertainers including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Jimmy Durante.

But her most important job title, he said, was mother.

“She did everything in her power to do everything for us to make sure we were OK in every which way,” said Duke Miglin, who is a real estate developer and previously worked as an actor and played a pilot in the Harrison Ford movie “Air Force One.”

Mrs. Miglin’s second husband, Egyptian businessman Naguib Mankarious, died in 2000 from complications after plastic surgery.

Among the many other charities she supported was the Anti-Cruelty Society.

“She was an avid supporter of ours and also did some rescue work,” said Lydia Krupinski, the organization’s vice president for mission impact. “She brought in 13 cats to us that she found as strays outside so we could adopt them out. She also adopted from us and supported us financially as well.”

In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. Miglin is survived by six grandchildren.

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