Rachel Uchitel suffered a "total breakdown" not long after her fiance died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, her mother said Sunday, before re-emerging as a nightclub fixture who policed velvet ropes from Las Vegas to Manhattan to Southampton.
Tabloid reports have linked Uchitel, 34, to the world's No. 1 golfer, Tiger Woods - an allegation she has denied.
"I think she has a very good heart, and that heart was broken on 9/11," said her mother, Susan, who spoke on the condition that her last name not be published. "She's had a very tough life . . . whatever direction she's gone off on may have been not good for her . . . Underneath it there's a very sweet and wounded person from that experience."
The Manhattan resident, who has worked as a director of "VIP services" for nightclubs in Southampton, declined to comment Sunday as she fled her apartment in the meatpacking district to fly to California.
Uchitel became a public face in 2001 when her fiance, James Andrew O'Grady, a managing director of the financial firm Sandler O'Neill & Partners, died on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. In the days after the terror attacks, an anguished Uchitel roamed the city, handing out photocopied missing-person fliers of O'Grady.
In 2004, Uchitel married an old friend from her New York City private school days, Steven Ehrenkranz, then a stock trader who had survived the World Trade Center attack. The marriage lasted only four months, friends said. Sunday, Ehrenkranz said: "I got nothing for you. Lose the number. Don't worry about me."
After the divorce in 2005, with friends' help, Uchitel "moved into the nightclub business" in Las Vegas, her mother said.
"They said, 'We're opening this club, why don't you help us out. It'll get you out of the city and start you on something new,' and she said OK," her mother said.
A friend said Uchitel reconnected with an old boyfriend, Jason Strauss, who runs several casino nightclubs, including Tao in Las Vegas, where Uchitel worked. "She found she was good at it and started to enjoy it," the mother said of her daughter's job at the nightclub.
Court records show that Buddha Entertainment, which does business as the Tao nightclub, had a December 2007 lien against her in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. It was disposed of in 2008.
Asked about tabloid reports that her daughter was romantically involved with golfer Tiger Woods, Uchitel's mother said she didn't know whether the allegation is true.
"We have purposely avoided that conversation," she said.
According to Uchitel's Facebook page, she is "Director of VIP Services" during summer months at the Pink Elephant on Route 27 in Southampton, a nightclub with another location on West 27th Street in Manhattan.
In 2007, Uchitel worked for Dune on North Sea Road in Southampton, where she decided who got into the club and who didn't - an honor that could cost clubgoers as much as $2,000, according to a Newsday profile at the time.
The story observed that Uchitel "thrives on the madness at the door."
Uchitel's job is to "make sure wealthy people have a great experience," one of her former Southampton club co-workers said Sunday.
"She did all the VIP services and booked all the major tables and took care of all the . . . people - from celebrities to hedge-fund people to the prince of Dubai or what have you," said the friend, who asked not to be identified. "Her clients were large."