In the 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles, a chubby and awkward 12-year-old named Victoria (“Rikki”) Siegel shyly tells the camera that she and her six siblings used to be incredibly spoiled, but “now we’re just like, I don’t know, normal I guess.”
Of course, nothing about the Siegel family or Rikki’s life was the least bit normal and sadly, the same is true for her death. Ever since the 18-year-old heiress was found dead by a housekeeper last Saturday afternoon in the family’s sprawling Florida estate, the case has become a strange mix of celebrity and tragedy, vulgarity and neglect.
The daughter of Jacqueline Mallery Siegel, a former Mrs. Florida, and stepdaughter of David Siegel, the once-billionaire “time-share king” and founder of Westgate Resorts, Rikki grew up surrounded by tasteless luxury and overconsumption. According to The Queen of Versailles, which profiled the Siegels and their ongoing quest to build themselves the “largest home in America”—a 90,000 square-foot mansion in Windermere, Florida, dubbed “Versailles”—a typical day in the life of Rikki, her six siblings, and her cousin involved cruising around Orlando in the back of a limousine, working out in the Siegel’s private gym, and chomping on Big Macs at the hair salon while preparing themselves for Ms. America parties. Though the Siegels do face some financial problems in the film, their suffering seems limited to flying commercial and making do with only four staff members to run their home.
The one real problem the Siegel kids faced in the film was their parents. David Siegel, who married Jackie when Rikki was three years old in 2000, came across as an absentee and grouchy father who never removed his Bluetooth, even on Christmas morning. Jackie Siegel, the modern-day Marie Antoinette, seemed warmer and like a nice enough person, but she’s not exactly a hands-on mom, preferring to leave the heavy lifting of mothering to her nannies. The Siegel children in the film seem like the classic poor-little-rich kids: they have everything they could possibly ever want in life except a happy home.
So while Rikki’s death is certainly tragic, it is not wholly surprising that any pain she may have been experiencing went unnoticed. The official toxicology report hasn’t been conducted, but the family, through its spokesperson Michael Marder, says it is “likely” Rikki had drugs in her system when she died, but that they are not sure whether “the drugs she took were in fact prescribed medication, something else, or where and how these drugs may have been obtained.” Victoria had a history of seizures, they say, and became addicted to the drugs she took to treat them, noting that she “voluntarily underwent rehabilitation and was working hard to address this problem.” An addiction expert told the Associated Press, however, that he didn’t know of any drugs used to treat seizures that were addictive
On Tuesday, the family released another statement saying that Rikki had received “cruel and hateful” text messages from her boyfriend’s phone that were written by his ex-girlfriend. Jackie told the local Florida news station WFTV that she believes the messages upset Rikki so much that she took drugs to calm down. “I don’t think (she) had any intentions of killing herself,” Jackie said. “I think she just wanted to soothe the pain she was going through.”
And then there’s her Memorial Service, which in true Siegel fashion, approached the surreal. Pictures surfaced of Jackie taking photos of the casket with her phone, dressed in a tight black lace dress with a very low neckline, and clutching a purple soda cup. She posed with a group of guests, as if for a society photographer, and was even caught smiling mid-conversation while adjusting her hat. We all cope with tragedy in unique ways, and Jackie, it seems, has always been one who marches to the beat of her own drummer, but her behavior at the service generated substantial media backlash.
In response to the criticism that the photos generated, Marder released yet another statement on Thursday saying, “People deal with grief differently. Mrs. Siegel is grieving as we all are. I have been with the family starting from the very first moment they learned of Victoria's death and I can tell you that she has cried ... a lot ...and has been on an emotional roller[coaster].”
Victoria’s obituary, which ran in The Orlando-Sentinel, painted a picture of a young woman who was the polar opposite of her flashy mother. She was nicknamed “Hippie Rikki,” preferring to be “barefoot or in flip-flops,” and instead of a new car, asked for a 1970 Volkswagen station wagon. The 2014 Olympia High School graduate also dabbled in photography and poker, and wished to open a sushi restaurant called “Rikki Tikki Tavern.” “She was one of the most sensitive down to earth girls you could ever meet,” read the obit. “All who knew her will remember her kind heart, her soft spot for rescuing animals in need, and a beautiful smile that could light up a room.”
David Siegel, meanwhile, did appear to be very upset in the memorial service photos, telling WFTV, “This should have been a happy time of celebration. I would have been walking her down the aisle and she would have been starting a new life as a new wife and then eventually a new mother. Instead I’m going to bury her.” It should be noted that Siegel is 80, and it is not known whether Rikki was actually planning on marrying her boyfriend at the time of her death.
From the little glimpse we see of their relationship in The Queen of Versailles, Rikki and David clashed. At the end of the film when she is 14, thinner, and a lot more confident, she confronts him after he snaps at Jackie, telling him, “You are in a bad mood. You are putting everyone else in a bad mood. She made your dinner. She brought it in here for you and you’re being so rude.”
As she leaves his office, she mutters to Jackie, “Oh my god I hate him.” It could just be teenage angst, but Rikki did seem aware in the film of how dysfunctional her parents’ marriage was—perhaps more so than anyone else in the family. She later told the camera, “I think my dad married my mom as like a trophy wife maybe, to like show her off cause she’s like really pretty. He doesn’t act like he loves her the way he treats her and stuff.”
The director of The Queen of Versailles, Lauren Greenfield, wrote about Victoria that she “kind of made herself more important by what happens in the end because in the beginning she’s this prepubescent, awkward, shy, slightly overweight girl and by the end she’s this beautiful young woman who is somehow self-realized and is the only one who stands up to her dad, and kind of says to her mom, “why aren’t you standing up to him?””
David Siegel was so incensed by the film that, following its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, he sued not only the filmmakers but also the Sundance Institute, claiming that both the movie and the press notes for the film were defamatory. An arbitrator eventually awarded in favor of the filmmakers, ordering Siegel to fork over $750,000 to them.
Despite the criticism the family received as a result of the film, Jackie and Co. still desired having cameras around. Jackie was reportedly planning a Kardashians-style reality show, and a week before Rikki’s death, the Siegels were featured on the reality show Celebrity Wife Swap in which Jackie switched places for a week with the wife of actor Jeremy London. The episode, in what now seems like a chilling production decision, focused on the Siegel’s total lack of control of their children. It paints a vision of family life that is even more chaotic and strange than what The Queen of Versailles showed. Botox parties in the living room are the norm; David only looks up from his work to hit on his new “wife”; the kids are left to roam around the giant mansion, cared for by their army of nannies.
At the end of the episode, when the couples meet up to share advice, Juliet London, the wife who was swapped for Jackie, seemed genuinely upset by how the Siegel children were being raised. She begged Jackie and David to pay them more attention and be more loving toward them.
“You have all these beautiful things, but you also have all these beautiful children,” she told them through tears, “I hope that you can realize that of every thing you have, your family is the best thing.”