Geoffrey Edelsten might be best remembered for trophy girlfriends, extravagant lifestyle and garish suits – but there was much more to his extraordinary and controversial life.
Edelsten, who died in Melbourne aged 78 on Friday, was a brilliant but disgraced medical entrepreneur, a dazzling but unlikely lothario and ultimately one of Australia’s great self-publicists.
His last two years were believed to have been relatively quiet, increasingly spent as a recluse in the Balencea Apartments on St Kilda Road.
As his health faded, Edelsten had few visitors and he is believed to have been found in the apartments by his cleaner. His death is not being treated as suspicous.
‘The only people who would come to visit him last year were his brother, his close family and his carers,’ a neighbour told the Herald Sun, also describing him as ‘an old-school gentleman’.
Edelsten’s decline was the sharpest of contrasts to his insatiable appetite for the spotlight over many years.
Australian businessman and one-time AFL owner Geoffrey Edelsten has died at the age of 78. Edelsten is pictured with his third wife Gabi Grecko
He claimed the most attention by the glamorous women he married.
Edelsten was married three times to beautiful, much younger women – to model Leanne Nesbitt in 1984; to American fitness instructor Brynne Edelsten (nee Gordon) in 2009; then to another model, Gabi Grecko, also American, in 2015.
The three women were respectively 20, 40 and 46 years younger than him and those marriages lasted three years, five years and four months.
Edelsten and his first wife Leanne on August 5, 1985 next to their Porsche after buying the Sydney Swans
Geoffrey Edelsten was a pioneering and ambitious medical entrepreneur who opened several clinics in the 1970s before eventually being deregistered in NSW and Victoria and going bankrupt
Brynne Edelsten married Geoffrey Edelsten in a $3million wedding in 2009. She was 27 at the time and he was 67
Geoffrey Edelsten was married to Brynne for five years between 2009 and 2014
Edelsten with Gabi Grecko. In 2014 Edelsten would marry the model, who was 46 years younger than him
Edelsten bought his first wife, Leanne Nesbitt, a sports car and a helicopter for her 21st birthday
His weakness for women was always matched by his extravagant lifestyle and the two things were often combined. He is said to have bought his first wife a sports car and a helicopter for her 21st birthday.
He rose to prominence as a medical entrepreneur in the 1970s, disappeared from view when he was sentenced to a year in jail and then spectacularly resurfaced with his marriage to Brynne Edelsten and a penchant for candy-coloured suits.
Edelsten was born in Carlton in Melbourne’s inner-north in 1943, the son of Jewish immigrants Hymie and Esther, who owned a lingerie boutique.
He went to primary school in Carlton North and secondary school in Burwood before earning a double degree in medicine and surgery at the University of Melbourne.
The enterprising young trainee doctor spent any spare time he had managing Melbourne bands, writing music and trying to get an emerging record label, Hit Productions, off the ground.
Edelsten with Leanne Nesbitt on their wedding day. The pair split after a tumultuous three-year marriage
He worked at Royal Melbourne Hospital after graduation then as a GP in rural Victoria and New South Wales.
He gained a pilots licence and began to offer remote services before turning his attention to the expansion of medical practices in Sydney.
Starting with a practice at Coogee, Edelsten began opening revolutionary 24-hour medical centres offering bulk-billing, so that patients bore no financial cost for consultations.
His first clinic was reportedly seeing 2,000 patients each week within four months of opening. By the time he had 13 medical centres, about 20,000 people were coming through the doors every seven days.
His clinics attracted attention for interior decor not normally associated with medical practices. This included mink-covered examination tables, chandeliers and white grand pianos in the waiting rooms.
Dr Geoffrey Edelsten pictured in his surgery in September 1985. His first cutting-edge clinic was reportedly seeing 2,000 patients each week within four months
Edelsten bought the Sydney Swans AFL team in July 1985 for $2.9million, making him a household name.
A year later he tried to buy a controlling stake in the Cronulla Sharks rugby league team, but his offer was rejected.
Around that time, Edelsten’s adventure with the Swans began to unravel.
‘Success on the field was not translated to financial security, membership or a sustainable structure,’ said an entry in the official history of the Swans.
Edelsten resigned as chairman after less than twelve months in the role and he sold his interest in 1988.
Edelsten was the first private owner of a major AFL team when he bought the Swans for $2.9million in 1985. He is pictured in a cover photo for Good Weekend
The first captain of the Swans, Barry Round, heralded Edelsten’s star power for helping put the team ‘on the map’ after their relocation from Melbourne in 1982.
‘He created some important awareness with the Sydney people,’ Round said.
‘We were only getting our best players and goalkickers in one of the back pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, but with his flamboyant style he really turned it around for the club.’
Brynne and Geoffrey Edelsten at their wedding in 2009. The pair married in a glitzy ceremony worth $3million
Edelsten’s involvement with Carlton Football Club wasn’t as high profile, but lasted longer. He was a made a life member in 2013.
AFL legend Greg Williams also paid tribute to Edelsten.
‘He was a great man,’ the Carlton icon, who joined the Swans a year after Edelsten took over in 1985, told 3AW.
‘People had an opinion of him but he was a lot different than the actual opinion. He was a great guy with a great heart and he loved the Swans even though he barracked for Carlton.
‘I loved Dr Edelsten. All the blokes who played for the Swans I’m sure there’s great memories there. ‘
Most controversial of all was Edelsten’s relationship with one of his patients in the early 1980s – the notorious hitman Christopher Dale Flannery.
In 1984 Edelsten provided Flannery with a medical certificate stating the gun-for-hire was unfit to stand trial because of an infection following tattoo removal surgery.
Edelsten pictured in a Sydney Swans file photo. He made his money pioneering revolutionary 24-hour medical centres offering bulk-billing, so that patients bore no financial cost
The late 1980s was a period of decline for the ultra-ambitious Edelsten.
In 1988 he was deregistered in NSW after being found guilty of professional misconduct over several matters, including employing an unqualified laser surgeon.
In 1990 he was convicted of perverting the course of justice and soliciting Flannery – who had disappeared in May 1985 – to assault a former patient. He was jailed for a year.
After the NSW Parliament was told Edelsten was practicing medicine in Victoria, he was also deregistered there and by the early 1990s Edelsten went bankrupt.
He re-emerged in business as the man behind a mail-order paternity test kit business in 2001 called Gene-E, which was advertised on late night television.
Edelsten’s masterstroke and fortune would come from the Allied Medical chain of 24-hour ‘superclinics’ he founded in 2005 with a business partner.
He sold Allied in 2011 for $200million to Sonic Healthcare and invested $1million into the Australian horror movie Wolf Creek 2.
In recent years he became best known for his marriage to personal trainer Brynne – who was 40 years his junior.
Edelsten and Gabi Grecko arrive ahead of the Red Ball 2015 at the Grand Hyatt in September 2015
The couple married in 2009.
The party at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, attended by celebrities including Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander, Margot Robbie, Kerri-Anne Kennerley and Fran Drescher cost an estimated $3.3million.
The glamorous nuptials included a helicopter, circus performers and a luxury Bentley.
The marriage lasted five years before Mrs Edelsten had enough of her ‘publicity-obsessed’ husband, claiming it was ‘a very lonely marriage’.
She was charged drug offences after a police raid in Melbourne last month and faces court in August.
Nesbitt was a 19-year-old model when she first met the businessman. They tied the knot in 1984 but split in 1988
A spokesperson for Ms Edelsten released a statement after her ex-husband’s passing: ‘Brynne and Geoffrey enjoyed some truly beautiful moments, including their wedding in 2009.
Edelsten was credited by then-Swans captain Barry Rounds for turning around the club’s fortune after buying the team in 1985
‘While their marriage ended after 5 years together, Brynne remains grateful for the good times the couple shared and is deeply saddened and shocked to hear the news of his passing.’
After Edelsten’s short-lived marriage to Grecko in 2015, he was linked to several women including The Block contestant Suzi Tayor and American Playboy model Ashley Kirk, 37.
While Edelsten’s fortune and main personal achievements were arguably from his business dealings, it was his colourful life that he will be remembered for.
In his 2011 autobiography Enigma he wrote about a lusty threesome he claimed to have been involved in way back in 1972.
‘The three of us flew off to Tel Aviv and settled into a suite at one of the finest hotels. We also settled into bed, the three of us, each night, and we all got along like a house on fire.
‘In fact, I’m surprised the mattress didn’t burst into flames, such was the threesome passion.’
Edelsten was nothing if not extravagant.