72° Good Afternoon
72° Good Afternoon

Donald Trump: 25 years of women, wealth, and the lust for political power

A trio of themes have dominated the life of Donald Trump over the past 25 years -- they could even be called obsessions.

These themes -- women, wealth and political power -- have helped the New York-born billionaire tycoon transform himself from gloriously coifed scion of a wealthy real estate developer into loudmouthed operator of a casino empire, builder of luxury homes and hotels and golf courses, reality TV celebrity, lifestyle brand and candidate for the GOP nomination for president of the United States.

Along the way, he has married three models, surrounded himself with the beauties of the pageants that he organizes through his Miss Universe Organization, wrote a growing library of books and became the spigot of outrageous quotes.

He has also irritated a lot of people and even been slammed to the mat during a pay-per-view wrestling match.

He just may be the kind of tycoon that America wants as president.

Here's a quarter century of the Donald's life in 17 key moments.

Trump opens the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City

Trump spent a fortune building up an empire
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Craig Allen

Trump spent a fortune building up an empire of Atlantic City casinos beginning in the 1980s. First came the Trump Plaza and the Trump Castle, which helped rake in an estimated $100 million a year and became the home of major boxing matches promoted by impresario Don King, including Mike Tyson's 1987 title fight. But it was the Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino that would become the centerpiece of Trump's empire: With 120,000 feet of gambling space and 1,000 rooms, it was considered "the largest casino in the world" when it opened in 1990. But Trump would find that his fortune -- and luck -- would be tested by his big gamble on the New Jersey resort.

Ivana Trump and Donald Trump, the 'imperial couple'

She was Czechoslovakian-born and a former Olympian-turned-fashion model
Photo Credit: AFP-Getty Images / Swerzey

She was Czechoslovakian-born and a former Olympian-turned-fashion model when Ivana Zelnícková met Trump in 1976. After a more or less nine-month courtship, they married, in a small ceremony, on April 9, 1977. They were, as Vanity Fair would write, an "imperial couple." Besides being the mother to his first three children, Trump's wife would become a business partner in his Atlantic City casino businesses. But that's where it ultimately unraveled. In the mid-1980s, while Ivana became manager of the Trump Castle, Trump engaged in what would become a public love affair with a model named Marla Maples. The backdrop to that affair was the New Jersey resort, and with Ivana there, too, the drama erupted into the media. By 1991, the imperial couple had a royal split.

Marla Maples becomes Trump's second wife

Marla Maples, a Georgia-born model and aspiring actress,
Photo Credit: AFP-Getty Images / Hai Do

Marla Maples, a Georgia-born model and aspiring actress, became known as the Georgia peach in the city's tabloids, but before that she was just another beautiful woman Trump happened to stumble upon. He courted her while still married, and their affair burst into the headlines and resulted in the "divorce of the century." After Ivana was expensively dropped from the Trump timeline, in 1993, Maples got a pageant-style wedding at the Plaza (She wore a $2 million diamond tiara!). Howard Stern said of the marriage: "I give it four months." He was off by a few years.

Trump buys the Miss Universe Organization

Here's how Trump explains his decision to buy
Photo Credit: AFP-Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

Here's how Trump explains his decision to buy the Miss Universe Organization in 1996 for $10 million, from his 2004 book, "Trump: How to Get Rich," co-written with Meredith McIver. "I love beautiful women and I'm also a businessman, so it seemed like a good idea, which it has turned out to be." But it didn't appear to be a good idea at the time. Ratings for the Miss USA pageant were abysmal and the entire concept seemed incongruous with the times. After selling half of the company to CBS and with ratings continuing to lag, he took out an option to shop the pageant around. He found a home at NBC, which had recently acquired Spanish-language network Telemundo, with its beauty contest-loving Latin market.

Trump runs for president for the Reform Party nomination

By 2000, improbably, the national political chatter was
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Craig Lassig

By 2000, improbably, the national political chatter was all about the outsiders who might remake Washington -- people like Jesse Ventura, Pat Buchanan and, yes, Donald Trump. The three were the most potent political players of the insurgent Reform Party that grew out of Ross Perot's spoiler independent play for the White House in 1992. Trump had telegraphed his intentions, by quitting the Republican Party in 1999, that he was exploring a presidential bid as a Reform Party candidate. His case for office? His experience as a casino and real estate developer. "I understand this stuff," he said. "I mean, why is a politician going to do a better job than I am?" But as the Reform Party broke apart due to infighting his bid ground down.

Trump announces he'll build the tallest building in the U.S.

In typical Trump style, for his signature development
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Scott Olson

In typical Trump style, for his signature development in Chicago, the real-estate tycoon imagined a super-tall skyscraper that would be taller any other building in the United States. In 2000, he had announced he would buy the Sun-Times building in downtown, tear it down and replace it with a new tower that would house offices, apartments and hotel rooms. But less than a year later, the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and a downturn in the economy derailed that plan. What replaced it may have been more modest in size, but still retained the lavishness of Trump's trademark brand when it opened as the Trump International Hotel and Tower in 2008. Just this year, it was at the center of some local controversy for its gargantuan "TRUMP" sign.

Trump's 'The Apprentice' premieres with signature swagger: 'You're Fired!'

Donald Trump's reality show,
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Peter Kramer

Donald Trump's reality show, "The Apprentice," premiered in 2004. It was an instant hit with Trump playing a boardroom heavy who meted out rewards and the ultimate punishment -- "You're Fired!" -- to the contestants. Its first finale had over 28 million people tuning in. The show marked the expansion of Trump as celebrity, lifestyle brand and global personality.

Trump marries girlfriend Melania Knauss, another model

The success of
Photo Credit: Newsmakers / Spencer Platt

The success of "The Apprentice" brought renewed attention to Trump and his romantic life. By this time, Trump had left Marla Maples in the rear view mirror. Actually, he'd engaged in a romance with Melania Knauss, a Slovenia-born model who moved to the U.S. in 1996 and met Trump two years later (Maples and Trump didn't divorce until 1999). Knauss was 28; Trump 52. The two married on January 22, 2005.

Trump the global lifestyle brand

With the success of
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

With the success of "The Apprentice," the Trump brand went into hyper-drive. He launched a line of suits and pants. There was Donald Trump, the Fragrance, and even Donald Trump the Doll, introduced in time for the holidays as a novelty gift and priced at $25. The doll could speak 17 phrases, riffing on "The Apprentice." Finally, Trump the board game, which had fizzled once before, was brought back. You can still buy it new to this day.

He proposed to build Trump Towers II, a 'bigger and better' World Trade Center

In 2005, Trump proposed to rebuild the Twin
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

In 2005, Trump proposed to rebuild the Twin Towers, saying that the proposed Freedom Tower at the time was "disgusting." "We should have the World Trade Center bigger and better," he said. The Twin Towers II would look very much the same, except a story taller and stronger. However, Trump had no official role in the reconstruction at the WTC site.

Trump turns educator with Trump University

On May 23, 2005, the mogul announced his
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

On May 23, 2005, the mogul announced his for-profit Trump University to teach business professionals the secrets of success as he saw them through an online self-directed series of courses. But complaints about the school's promises began rolling in, reaching attorneys general in several states; three lawsuits were filed by students, some claiming the Trump University classes amounted to nothing more than "infomercials" that costs thousands of dollars. Trump Organization's attorney has denied the allegations, but they continue to dog the candidate on the campaign trail.

Trump makes his mark in Las Vegas

On July 12, 2005, Donald Trump stood between
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ethan Miller

On July 12, 2005, Donald Trump stood between showgirls and Phil Ruffin, the owner of the New Frontier Hotel and Casino, and cut a ribbon at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the 64-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Las Vegas. People had long wondered whether Trump, with his interests in the casino and real-estate businesses, would find a way to bring his imprimatur to Sin City, and it seemed that he finally had. The Trump Hotel Las Vegas opened in 2008.

A growing Trump dynasty

Barron Trump was born to Melania and the
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

Barron Trump was born to Melania and the Donald in 2006, bringing the number of Trump heirs to five. He had three children with Ivana Trump -- Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric -- and one with Marla Maples, Tiffany. The three eldest children have taken up dynastic roles in their father's businesses. They had even appeared on his show, "The Apprentice," to show the business chops that they must have inherited from their father. Ivanka, 33, Donald Jr., 37, and Eric, 31, are all executive vice presidents at the Trump Organization. Tiffany, 21, is studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Barron, seen above shortly after his birth but now 9 years old, reportedly has an entire floor to himself at the Trump Tower penthouse in Manhattan.

Trump gets slammed to the mat in Wrestlemania's 'Battle of the Billionaires'

Trump has been involved in professional wrestling going
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Bill Pugliano

Trump has been involved in professional wrestling going back to at least the late 1980s. At first, it was all about business: he provided venues for events, and promoted the sport. But he soon began making appearances. That culminated in a high-stakes gamble that nearly cost him his golden hairdo. In a dramatic, staged "Battle of the Billionaires," Trump faced off against fellow billionaire Vince McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, on pay-per-view television in 2007. Although the two didn't fight themselves, the outcome of a matchup between surrogates was dire: the loser would have his head shaved. Trump won, of course. But, in retaliation, wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin slammed him to the mat.

Trump's golf empire building causes David vs. Goliath fight in Scotland

In November 2008, Trump won approval to build
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jeff J. Mitchell

In November 2008, Trump won approval to build a huge golf resort and hundreds of homes among the precious sand dunes and wildlife of Aberdeenshire in Scotland. For years, he had fought to get the resort built, running into challenges from environmentalists as well as farmers who refused to sell their land to Trump. One farmer, Michael Forbes, famously painted the words "NO GOLF COURSE" and "NO MORE TRUMP LIES" (pictured) on a shed and to this day has refused to give up his property. His David vs. Goliath story was featured in a documentary, "You've Been Trumped," and he has been hailed as a local Scottish hero for standing up to the tycoon. The $161 million Aberdeen golf course opened in 2008 but Trump halted all future development there after the Scottish government approved an offshore wind farm near his resort in 2014.

Trump's Atlantic Casino business crumbles

By the late 2000s, Trump's gaming business, Trump
Photo Credit: Getty Images / William Thomas Cain

By the late 2000s, Trump's gaming business, Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., had filed for bankruptcy four times. Each quarter, the Atlantic City casinos kept losing millions of dollars, and the financial problems finally caught up with the mogul. In 2011, Trump resigned as chairman of the board of the company ahead of its latest bankruptcy filing. Trump Marina (the renamed Castle) was bought up by Landry's in 2011; the Trump Plaza shuttered in 2014; and the monster Trump Taj Mahal teetered on the brink of financial implosion by 2015.

Trump's zeal for being president leads him to enter Republican Party race

Trump's presidential ambitions go back to at least
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Christopher Gregory

Trump's presidential ambitions go back to at least the 1980s, and he appeared to get serious about it in 2000 when he entered the race as a Reform Party candidate. Interest in his running for president on the Republican Party line brewed again in time for the 2012 election but he declined. Finally, in June 2015, Trump announced he would run for president as a Republican in a news conference at Trump Tower in New York City, where his comments, including remarks made about illegal Mexican immigrants, instantly propelled his bid into the media spotlight. For months, he dominated the early primary polls in a crowded field of contenders.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

News photos & videos