Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Black Panther Queen

A few weeks ago, I read a news article that briefly mentioned someone so utterly fascinating, I had to look her up.

The more I learned about this woman, the more obsessed I became. Everything about her life was so mysterious and glamorous, that I simply had to know more. I seriously spent hours scouring the internet for every news article, website, wikipedia entry, and blog post that had her mentioned.

Using these sources, I've managed to patch together the fascinating life of a bizarrely obscure figure who has barely any presence on the internet. In fact, in all my searching, I could only find a handful of photos of this woman.

Here is her story.

Nina Dyer was born in 1930 to wealthy British parents, who owned extensive property in Sri Lanka. She was raised in the exotic country but moved to Paris as a teenager to become a high fashion model. She was gorgeous, she was flirty, and she craved extravagance.

It wasn't long before she was invited to party on the most luxurious yachts and mingle with wealthy jet-setters at the hottest social events.

At 17 years old, Nina started having an affair with the very eccentric and very married Baron von Thyssen, who was the richest man in Europe at the time. He lavished his young mistress with jaw-dropping gifts. On Valentine's Day, he presented the teenager with her very own Caribbean island. Nina caused quite a media scandal by bathing nude on the beaches there. The Baron also gave her two sports cars with gold-plated ignition keys, expensive jewelry, and two black panthers.

Finally, the lovesick Baron left his wife, an Austrian princess, for Nina. They married in 1954.

But three months into their marriage, Nina ended up cheating on him with a hot, struggling actor, who was around her own age.

In their divorce settlement, Nina received $2.8 million, $364,000 worth of jewelry, and a sprawling chateau.

When she wasn't busy having scandalous affairs with both men and women, Nina spent most of her free time taking care of her two black panthers. She took the animals with her everywhere, much to the distress of other people. Almost every single fancy hotel suite she stayed in was literally ripped apart by the two wild cats.

In 1957, at the age of 27, Nina married Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan in Switzerland. She converted to Islam and took the name Shirin. He was so busy with work (he had just been appointed the Special Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and Nina spent most of her time in Paris, trying to resurrect her modeling career, that the newlyweds barely saw each other. They divorced five years later.

In that settlement, Nina received $1.4 million.

Although Nina was young, beautiful, and filthy rich, she still was desperately unhappy. She had no children, barely any friends, and her vibrant personality was fading.

In 1965, at only 35 years old, Nina over-dosed on sleeping pills. Her maid found her lifeless body the next morning.

Since her death, she has ceased to exist. There are no books about her life. She isn't portrayed in films. It's actually almost impossible to even find her modeling shots. She seems to have been erased from history.

The only shred of legacy Nina left behind is the jewels which once adorned her body. For example, the richest people in the world are still trying to get their hands on the Nina Dyer Black Pearl Necklace, a three-strand black pearl necklace from Cartier, which was a present from her first husband.

If you dig hard enough, you'll find numerous news articles from the 1980s, even up until 2010, revealing that descendants of her husbands, and even her own second-third-fourth generation cousins, are anxiously looking for missing Nina Dyer jewels, or fighting custody for ones already discovered.

But nobody talks about the woman behind the sparkle.

Perhaps that is a premonition Nina already had when she started fading away behind the diamonds.

Because when you live your life to only seek pleasure, what else is left?

I don't think she liked the answer.


Kim (A Very Sweet Blog) said...

Nina had SO MUCH and SO LITTLE! She seemed very unhappy! And to die at 35 by an overdose. WOW! I come across so many people that have less than her that are much happier. I don't have any empathy for her greed. Fascinating post Jen! Thanks for sharing her story.

French Girl in Seattle said...

Excellent job, Miss Reporter! :-) You dug out - and brought us - an excellent story. I had never heard of Nina, the girl with the black panthers. Loved it. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Pramudita Puspita said...

cool blog!! let's be friend! follow me and i will follow you back for sure! :) happy day^^

Sherin said...

You always find the most interesting stories. I guess the moral is money and things can't buy happiness after all.

Kc said...

I LOVE these posts :) great job!!


JustMe said...

But what happened to the PANTHERS??

If they weren't A) wild creatures that deserved to live in the wild and B) super deadly, I'd love to live with a black panther.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's amazing. The fame and money got to her. Doesn't matter how much of it you have. I always love how you end your posts, I always end up sitting at my laptop pondering my life. Thank you for following my blog! :)

SR said...

Hi Jen, I've been reading your blog for almost months now. I'm sorry I've probably never left a comment since I mostly read it on my phone and its so hard to type on it :) But anyhow, have you read about Anne Boleyn? (Refer to the book : not the movie the other boleyn girl) If you read the book, you'll surely be digging sites to read more about her. Just thought you'd like it. Cheers.

Christina Marcus said...

Very interesting. I'm sure you've read/reported the highlights of all there is to find, but now I MUST score the internet for more. People like Nina are truly fascinating!

The Dainty Dolls House said...

What a sad really. I enjoyed that very much. Shame there wasn't anyone there to shove her in a better direction, maybe she would have filled her life with more useful things and people, shame!! Such a pretty face xx

Tights Lover said...

See? This is why I stopped giving my mistresses their own private islands. Things just always seem to go bad after that.

It's surprising that a woman with a story like that would just fade away. It would've definitely made for a great film, at the very least.

I hope you're having the best week ever!

hellosimpleme said...

WOW! Absolutely facinating.... such a interesting person and story.... I wonder what happened to her Panthers

Oh to Be a Muse said...

I think you've done a pretty good job of reminding the world of who Nina was, and it sounds like another interesting story of a life cut short.

Tanvi said...

Now we know about her, thanks to you!

Excellent post, as always Jen!

∞ © ∞

Alex said...

Whoa. That shit is crazy.

The Grande Dame said...

Life fast, die young - any truth to the saying?
Meanwhile, FINE. I have no problem with NOT living on my own island with my OWN panthers. FINE (invokes guilt Sylvia Fine style*

A BRIT GREEK said...

Cor blimey, what a tragic end to her short life! She had so much but funny how having money and materialistic things can't buy one happiness... But I do love the fact she had panthers - that is awesome!

Great post Jenn!

love jenny xoxo said...

what a sad story :( proves money doesn't buy happiness i guess.

love jenny xoxo

Wil Harris said...

I have never heard of this women. You do such a wonderful job of telling her story that I was so intrigued. Now I'm off to do my own research ;)

Arielle-HumblePieVintage said...

I don't blame them for wanting that black pearl necklace.

Those crazy/interesting about the panthers.

nicki fanning said...

So interesting, I 've never heard if her,but very interesting life, if somewhat purposeless, as you say.seeking pleasure must be great for awhile, but when the novelty wears off, there has to be something else, which obviously she never had.

All the nice "things" in the world doesn't make one fullfilled or happy..

Great post


Nicki fannings blogspot

Meri said...

I'm so surprised that such an eccentric character hasn't been capitalized on by the media before? What an interesting woman!

Audrey Allure said...

You find the most fascinating people -- such an interesting story!

jas said...

beautiful story!

Sam said...

Hi there, I love interesting historical character discoveries like this one, so mysterious! I also hadn't heard of Nina before, her life was as tragic as it must have been luxurious. Perhaps it wasn't suicide and maybe something else someone is trying to cover up and thats why there hardly any information on her, that would be a twist in the tale. It actually kinda reminds me of that Bollywood movie that was so famous last year, The Dirty Picture, that actress also had the most strange and tragic life.

Allison Taylor said...

I've never heard of this lady before, but her story is definitely very interesting! Thanks for sharing :)

Berenice de la Salle said...

My husband new Nina well. He was the best friend of the struggling French actor that Nina was madly in love with. The actor was Christian Marquand, and if you would like to learn more about how they met, go to and download chapter 2 of the book from the Chapters page.
Berenice de la Salle

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Lee Neidorf said...

You do such a wonderful job of telling her story that I was so intrigued.
Bail Bonds Richmond

Harlow said...

Great story although tragic. I believe there is more to this story than materialistic obsession leaving you cold and suicidal. Those men were guilty of their own vices and surely have blame on their hands as well. Very sad, maybe a true love would have made all the difference of how her story ended.

william harper said...

It is very hard to believe that the has been neglected and forgotten to the extent that she has?. said...

Nice story!

Online Fashion Jewelry Shopping said...

That's a very interesting story of hers. Black pearl necklace has never been out of fashion. It is still worn by elegant looking ladies. Thanks for sharing.

Ray said...

Yes, the "Black Panther Princess." I learned about her when our ad agency was hired to do some ads on a resort our client, Norwegian Caribbean Lines, had bought in Jamaica. We flew there, and were toured all around, and the place, then called Goblin Hill, was adjacent to one of the most beautiful waterfront areas of the island which was developed decades ago for the rich and famous. We did some of the ads on some of the celebs who had lived there then, and of course, the "Black Panther Princess" was among them. Another, by the way, was Errol Flynn. The old estates are in Port Antonio, and the island, which is now usually called "Princess Island" is just offshore from the beautiful hills that go down to the magnificent white sand and turquoise sea. The island is small, filled with tall coconut palms, and has a spectacular, small natural beach. You can actually wade over to the island. It is a postcard-like fantasy island, and that was hers. Go to Port Antonio and you can still see it and imagine her on the beach.

mft said...

I believe she was the character "Uncle Charlie" was based upon in Dominick Dunne's last book Too Much Money. He also wrote about her in one of The Mansions of Limbo stories.