For all the high-profile scenes she's been a part of for two decades, Rielle Hunter has proven to be an elusive figure these past nine months.
From the New York City literary world in the '80s to Hollywood in the '90s to this decade's boutique spiritual retreats, she has accumulated few friends and acquaintances who are willing to talk about her.
Hunter, 44, is the woman with whom former Sen. John Edwards on Friday acknowledged having had an affair. Edwards, 55, denied the National Enquirer's claims that he is the father of the baby girl Hunter delivered in February, and that he has paid her hush money.
Apart from the National Enquirer's sightings of her living in the Governors Club gated community in Chapel Hill in December, and more recently at a Beverly Hills hotel and in Santa Barbara, Calif., Hunter has dropped out of sight. Most of what is known of her is what has surfaced in written records, from courthouses to magazines.
Efforts to find Hunter on Friday were unsuccessful.
As Lisa Druck, she was a Florida girl from the time she was born in Fort Lauderdale until she left in 1984, after spending less than two years at the University of Tampa. By 1987 she ended up in the hard-partying New York circle of novelist Jay McInerney.
McInerney, whose books portrayed the cocaine-fueled atmosphere of New York City in the 1980s, based his third novel, “Story of My Life,” on his time with Druck and their friends. One character, Alison Poole, was specifically modeled after her, McInerney said in a 2005 magazine article. He said that she had “intrigued and appalled” him.
In 2005, McInerney and Hunter met in Manhattan and discussed those days. A transcript of the discussion ran in Breathe Magazine that year.
“For me you're a little bit frozen in time, a little bit Alison Poole, the 21-year-old party girl in that book who runs around New York going to nightclubs, doing drugs … and abusing credit cards,” McInerney said in the article.
She replies that she did a lot of drugs but adds that she was struck by her character's “need for truth.”
“That's definitely a theme in my life – seeker of truth,” she tells him.
Hunter tells him she left New York to move to Los Angeles to be an actress and to get away from the New York drug scene. She said she got off drugs in California with the help of a healer.
A new life
In 1991, she married Alexander M. Hunter III, a lawyer, and they lived in a $700,000 bungalow in Beverly Hills. It was there, in the heart of the movie industry, that she started using the stage name Rielle (pronounced Riley) Hunter. In 1994 she legally adopted that name.
She tried her hand at writing, churning out scripts for potential TV, film or stage projects with such titles as “Jupiter, Where Are You?,” “So Very Virgo,” “Reality Reels” and “It's All About Uranus.” None of the titles, which are listed in the property settlement in the Hunters' 1999 divorce, are in the authoritative Internet Movie Data Base.
Hunter did get a project listed in the database in 2000: a comedy short called “Billy Bob and Them.”
That same year, her divorce became final. According to the records, she received $5,000 a month for all of 2000 and then $4,000 a month for the next year. After that, the spousal support ended. In October, her former husband declined to be interviewed. He could not be reached Thursday.
During the ensuing years, Hunter claimed to have spent a lot of money attending spiritual retreats. By May 2004, she was tired of it, according to her Breathe Magazine conversation with McInerney. She said in that state of despair she had an awakening that was so startling that “for weeks after I couldn't even leave my house.”
By the end of 2004, Hunter had started a foundation promoting higher consciousness, and she set up a Web site: beingisfree .org, in which she posted the Breathe Magazine story and photos of herself and other spiritual seekers, including a swami, an astrologer and a Malibu healer. Three of those people contacted by the News & Observer during the past nine months said they hadn't seen Hunter in years.
The site was taken down soon after the first National Enquirer article alleging the affair was published, in October.
In 2006, Edwards was widely seen as a likely presidential candidate but had not yet formally declared his intentions. At an event with supporters and donors at a New York City restaurant, Hunter introduced herself to Edwards' staff and gave them her business cards, saying she was a producer. She was allowed to briefly meet Edwards, according to accounts given by Hunter and Edwards' staff.
Less than a month later, she and her video production company, Midline Productions, had a six-month contract worth more than $100,000 to produce a series of videographed “Webisodes.”
The crew followed Edwards on the campaign trail, including on trips to Africa and Iowa. The videos were posted on Edwards' Web site. They have since returned to the Internet on YouTube.
“He was very authentic. He was inspirational to me,” Hunter told the TV program “Extra” in February 2007. “I was around him a lot. It was great. We went to Africa. The whole experience was life altering for me.”
She said she was ignorant of politics but added, “Politics makes Hollywood look like a spiritual community.”