By Joe Sterling and Greg Botelho, (CNN) — It’s another slap heard around the world, albeit a legal one this time.
Two years after Wendi Deng made headlines for forcefully defending her husband — News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch — from a pie-throwing intruder in Britain’s Parliament, she and their relationship are in the news again.
Murdoch is filing for divorce from Deng, his third wife, a spokesman for the media mogul confirmed Thursday.
It’s not known what precipitated the split to end the marriage that began in 1999. Speculation, though, has swirled for months about the state of the couple’s relationship.
The Chinese-born, Yale-educated Deng was very accomplished in her own right pre-Murdoch, even though critics jabbed her as a “gold digger” through her marriage to the media mogul.
While her 82-year-old husband runs one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the world — one that includes 20th Century Fox, Fox television (including Fox News and FX), Sky news service, HarperCollins publishing and many newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, Britain’s Times and several publications in his native Australia — Deng had stayed largely out of the public eye.
That was until July 2011. She was sitting behind Murdoch in Parliament in London, while he testified about his company’s involvement in a phone-hacking scandal that rocked Britain.
Comedian Jonnie Marbles came at Murdoch with a shaving-foam pie. Deng leaped into action, lunging at Marbles and smashing his hand with her own.
“Mr. Murdoch,” said parliamentarian Tom Watson, who minutes earlier had been particularly critical of the media titan, “your wife has a pretty good left hook.”
Social media erupted in response to what soon became known as “the slap heard round the world” and earned her the sobriquet “tiger wife.” The reaction was particularly strong on Chinese microblogs, where many hailed Deng’s reaction as a moment of pride for Asian women.
“The harder she slapped, the more we can tell how eager she was to protect her husband … she is still a woman who longs for love,” wrote one person under the handle MissQccc.
Read more: How Murdoch bounced back from ‘humble day’
Chinese-born daughter of a factory engineer
So who is Wendi Deng?
She has talked about growing up “very, very poor” in a small town in China, as the daughter of a factory engineer.
Deng eventually landed in the United States, including earning a master’s degree at the Yale School of Management, where she now serves on its Board of Advisors.
Before she met Murdoch, she married the man who had sponsored her student visa in the United States during the late 1980s. She’d secure a “green card” to stay permanently in the United States — but her first marriage proved brief.
Murdoch and Deng met at a Hong Kong cocktail party shortly after her graduation from Yale. Deng then went on to work at Star TV, a Hong Kong-based satellite television service that’s under Murdoch’s corporate umbrella.
In a 2011 interview with his wife on CCTV, Murdoch recalled her interpreting for him while he toured the Chinese mainland.
A fervent pursuit followed, though Deng didn’t necessarily return all his affection.
“I fell in love with her, and I asked her. She said no, and it took a long time to persuade her,” Murdoch said.
Their 1999 wedding occurred shortly after Murdoch filed for divorce from his second wife, Anna Torv Murdoch. (Anna Torv wed Murdoch in 1967, the same year he divorced his first wife and one year before Deng was born, according to multiple reports.)
What becomes of Murdoch’s $11 billion fortune?
Shortly after the wedding, Murdoch announced his new wife would step down from her executive role at a News Corp. subsidiary in Hong Kong. He described her as “busy working on decorating the new apartment.”
A Wall Street Journal profile, published in 2000, hinted she didn’t entirely leave the business world. Deng frequently accompanied her husband and stepson to meetings with high-ranking Chinese officials, where she’d sometimes intervene “to smooth over potentially awkward situations,” according to that report.
Over the past 12 years, she gave birth to and raised two girls, Grace and Chloe. (Murdoch has four other children from his two previous marriages, some of whom hold prominent posts at News Corp.)
Her Yale profile notes she’s a co-founder of Big Feet Productions, an independent studio in East London that makes applications and games for Apple operating systems according to its website. And in 2011, she produced, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” a film set in 19th century China centered on two girls who circumvent cultural restrictions on females.
A divorce would end her union to Rupert Murdoch, and perhaps set up a battle over how much of his fortune — which Forbes recently estimated at $11.2 billion — she and her children will receive.
This potential showdown comes at a tenuous time for News Corp., which recently approved a plan to split its operations into two publicly traded companies.
Murdoch, the existing company’s largest shareholder, is set to become chairman of the two new companies.
It was not immediately known if Deng and Murdoch signed a prenuptial agreement prior to their wedding, and if so where they filed it. Michael Stutman, president of the New York chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said he’d expect they did so in New York — a state with a tendency to enforce terms of such agreements.
“New York will apply those terms so long as they are not grossly unfair or unconscionable,” Stutman said. “The same cannot be said about every other country in the world.”
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