Menu Close

Key Words: Melinda French Gates says Jeffrey Epstein factored into divorce from Bill Gates

“It wasn’t one moment or one specific thing that happened. There just came a point in time where there was enough there that I realized it just wasn’t healthy, and I couldn’t trust what we had.”

That was Melinda French Gates telling “CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King why her 27-year marriage to Microsoft

founder Bill Gates ended last year. 

In her first interview since news of the split shocked the business and finance community in May 2021, French Gates discussed her “journey of healing” over the past year, and offered some insight into why one of the world’s most famous power couples and philanthropy teams fell apart. 

The late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has been rumored to be one factor, which French Gates verified during the CBS sit-down. When the Gates’ divorce was first announced last year, people — including a former employee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation charity — told The Wall Street Journal that one source of concern for Melinda was her husband’s dealings with Epstein. She had consulted with lawyers about two years before she filed for divorce, according to the report, saying that the marriage was “irretrievably broken.” 

“[Jeffrey Epstein] was abhorrent. He was evil personified. I had nightmares about it afterward.”  

— Melinda French Gates, on the one time she met Epstein

When King asked whether Epstein was one reason why the marriage ended, French Gates responded, “Yes.”

“As I said, it was not one thing,” she continued. “It was many things. But I did not like that he’d had meetings with Jeffrey Epstein, no. I made that clear to him.” 

French Gates also revealed that she had met Epstein “exactly one time,” because she wanted to see who this man was. 

“I regretted it from the second I stepped in the door,” she said. “He was abhorrent. He was evil personified. I had nightmares about it afterward.”  

King asked whether French Gates had shared these feelings with her ex-husband, and his working relationship with Epstein. “Any of the questions remaining about what Bill’s relationship there was, those are for Bill to answer,” said French Gates. “But I made it very clear how I felt about him.”

Gates responded in a statement to CBS that, “Meeting with Epstein was a mistake that I regret deeply. It was a substantial error in judgment.” 

“Meeting with Epstein was a mistake that I regret deeply. It was a substantial error in judgment.” 

— Bill Gates

He added that he remains dedicated to his work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with his former spouse, “where our focus is to help reduce global inequities, giving every person the chance to live a healthy and productive life.”

French Gates shared the same sentiment, saying that while she and her ex are not “friends,” they are “friendly” — with an emphasis on the “-ly.” 

“We certainly have a working relationship,” she said. “Certainly, I wish him well. I don’t wish him harm. And I think we have a productive working relationship, and I think that will continue.”  

That’s namely the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which was founded by the duo more than 20 years ago, and which today manages an endowment of about $50 billion. 

French Gates also discussed her passion for philanthropy in the CBS interview. “I do believe if you are lucky enough to be a billionaire, believe me, you can give away half of it and not change your life,” she said. Her net worth is estimated to be about $6.2 billion. 

Gates and French Gates topped the list of 50 biggest U.S. charity donors in 2021.  And French Gates and her ex-husband had previously joined the Giving Pledge to give away most of their fortune, and they had written a joint letter committing to donate the bulk of their money to the Gates Foundation. But since the divorce, French Gates has decided to spread the wealth among various philanthropic endeavors, instead. “I recognize the absurdity of so much wealth being concentrated in the hands of one person, and I believe the only responsible thing to do with a fortune this size is give it away — as thoughtfully and impactfully as possible,” she wrote in a new letter.

Related: Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott: How two divorces unleashed billions in philanthropic dollars

She has also committed to giving $1 billion over 10 years to Pivotal Ventures, which she launched in 2015 to focus on issues like paid leave affecting women and children, as well as to fund projects that empower women. 

“We should have a society where, if for whatever reason wealth is in your hands, you put it back in society so that you change and you lift up others,” she said. 

French Gates also hinted that she’s open to dating and falling in love again. “I’m dipping my toe in that water a little bit,” she said. 

When King asked how that water looks, French Gates smiled and said, “interesting, at this point.”