Emily Berl for The New York Times
MAYBE you can be too rich.
Four years ago, Alexander Soros, the son of the billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros, made an unwitting public debut when Cityfile, a digital who’s who of New York society, dredged up party photos from his Facebook page. They showed the 22-year-old heir “chilling at dad’s house in Southampton, drinking 40s while cruising on the family boat, and making out with the babes.”
It was an embarrassment within the family, but also a lesson. “My mom was like, ‘Welcome to being a Soros,’ ” he recalled.
Right now, the name Alex Soros is popping up again in gossip columns. But this time, Mr. Soros welcomes the publicity.
He made his official debut on the New York social circuit earlier this month when he was a host of his first major party, for Global Witness, the swashbuckling British organization known for exposing Africa’s “blood diamond” trade.
Mr. Soros, looking dapper, if vaguely “Fantasy Island,” in a white Yves Saint Laurent suit, presided over some 340 revelers at a masquerade gala in Bridgehampton, N.Y. The actors Jeffrey Wright and Alex Karpovsky (“Girls”) were there, along with fashion designers like Johan Lindeberg. Mr. Soros and his co-host, the film director Edward Zwick, displayed a knack for publicity by pulling MC Hammer out of mothballs to perform.
But Mr. Soros was the real star of the show. He scored the laugh line of the night when he auctioned off a membership to Sitaras Fitness, the Manhattan gym where he and his father work out. “See my dad in shorts,” he deadpanned, as his father smiled from a front table.
After wrestling with his moneyed upbringing, Mr. Soros, now 26, is taking the stage on his own terms, though in a direction his father clearly approves: philanthropy. Last fall, while pursing his Ph.D. in history at Berkeley, the younger Mr. Soros started the Alexander Soros Foundation. Its stated mission is to promote social justice and human rights.
He has inherited his father’s outspoken streak, but also the platinum contacts culled over a lifetime of privilege, not to mention his slice of his father’s estimated $ 22 billion fortune, to direct as he pleases.
“I have the incentive of failing my own reputation,” he said. “If I don’t succeed, then I’m just another deadbeat lazy trust-fund kid.”
Alex Soros spent his youth padding around a Charles A. Platt-designed 14-room house on a sprawling country estate in Katonah, N.Y. His mother, Susan Weber Soros, now divorced from his father, founded the Bard Graduate Center for the decorative arts and adorned the house with Sargents and Cassatts. Their place in the city was a duplex at 1060 Fifth Avenue.
While his parents worked, he spent much of his time with his younger brother, Gregory, now 23 and pursuing a career as an artist; his nanny, Ping, from China; and the staff. (He also has three older half-siblings from Mr. Soros’s first marriage, but they were college-age or older when he was a toddler. One of them, Jonathan Soros, recently made headlines when he started a super PAC, called Friends of Democracy, to challenge lawmakers who oppose campaign finance reform.)
Mr. Soros was acutely aware that he lived in a privileged bubble, and sometimes dreamed of living in a subdivision, where he could play football in the street with other boys. “As a kid, all you want to be is normal,” he said. “When all you’re being fed is vichyssoise, you want to eat Big Macs like everyone else.”
Even when his father was off in Budapest or Johannesburg, his presence loomed large. George Soros, a Hungarian Jew, survived the Holocaust in hiding and went on to become a legend as an investor. He is seventh on Forbes’s list of richest Americans.
“The war shaped who he is, it made him the businessman he is, because he is able to divorce his feelings from a lot of passion, which I think is important for business,” the younger Soros said. “But it took him awhile to come around and open up emotionally with his family.”
His father, he added, encouraged his children to forge their own lives from an early age, a message that Alex sometimes resented. “I was very angry at him, I felt unwanted,” he said. “He had a very hard time communicating love, and he was never really around.”
Prone to introspection and self-questioning, Alex dove deep within himself to come to terms with his surreal life. When times got tough, he looked to Nietzsche for life lessons. Or he took a more typical New York approach. “Growing up on the Upper East Side, going to a psychologist is like going to Hebrew school,” he said. “It’s expected.”
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