The Untold Truth Of Cindy McCain

Cindy McCain is immediately recognized as the widow of the late John McCain, former Senator and presidential candidate for the Republican party in 2008. She's also the mother to Meghan McCain, the TV personality who "who turned The View into must-see TV once again with her passionate monologues and combative personality," according to Decider. Cindy has lived a mostly private life compared to these two, but always supported husband John throughout the years, even after his death in 2018 from brain cancer.

Behind the scenes, however, while her husband played out his political career, Cindy stayed equally busy. Instead of a career in politics, she told The Washington Post, "I think I can be just as effective in other ways." On top of being a mother of four, she's dedicated her time to several charities. But in the '90s, she almost lost it all.

What do you think life is like while married to a presidential candidate? It's time to find out the untold truth of Cindy McCain.

Growing up as Cindy Hensley

According to Biography, Cindy Lou McCain (née Hensley) was born 1954 in Phoenix, Ariz. She grew up in the Copper State with considerable money coming from her father's successful beer distribution business. Among her childhood fun, McCain was named a "rodeo queen in 1968," pet The New York Times, and headed over to the west coast for school to attend the University of Southern California. There, McCain earned her bachelor's degree in education followed by a master's degree in special education. 

After finishing school, her father bought her a car — but the young woman ended up wrecking the ride. McCain later told this story at her father's funeral, but left out the detail that it was reportedly a Porsche, which "he replaced ... with a Mercedes-Benz," according to The New York Times. With her degrees, Biography reports, McCain "taught at Agua Fria High School in Avondale, Arizona." But once again, luxury cars were a part of a story. As reported by The New York Times, she "was criticized for driving a fancy car," so her dad allegedly "bought her a Volkswagen to drive to school."

Cindy McCain's life as an heiress

When most people think of Budweiser, an image of luxury does not come to mind. And yet, Cindy McCain's father, Jim Hensley, built an empire in Arizona thanks to the popular brand after he founded Hensley and Co. in 1955 as a beer distributor in Phoenix (via NPR). Simply put, Hensley's company bought beer and delivered it to your neighborhood bar. The business model worked, and the company became the "third-largest Anheuser-Busch distributorship in the country." 

When Hensley died in 2000, he passed down the company to McCain: This meant owning a business that, in 2007, reportedly earned $370 million in revenue. McCain also owned stock in Anheuser-Busch, plus a family stake in the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. In 2008, executive employees at Hensley and Co. opened up to The New York Times about McCain's role as chairwoman in the company and alleged lifestyle as an heiress: "She crisscrosses the country on the company jet, keeps an accountant on the company payroll to mind her personal finances, drives a company Lexus with 'MS BUD' plates," the publication noted, adding that she defined her role as "strategic planning and corporate vision." 

However, McCain reportedly would rarely be at the offices, and Anheuser-Busch considered her an "absentee owner." Yikes. Most damning? These executives claimed that McCain had "left scarcely a mark on the company."

Family drama for the Hensleys

According to The Washington Post (via The Seattle Times), when Cindy McCain speaks about her childhood, she calls herself an "only child." But in reality, she is one of two children fathered by Jim Hensley. The businessman first married Mary Parks and the two had a daughter, Kathleen Portalski. After they divorced, Hensley married Marguerite Johnson, who herself "had a daughter, Dixie Burd, by a previous relationship." Together, Hensley and Johnson welcomed Cindy Hensley in 1954.

However, the publication reported that "the half-sisters had little contact growing up and have not spoken since Hensley's funeral in 2000." As part of Jim Hensley's will, he left $10,000 to Portalski. But Cindy received the biggest gift of all when she inherited the multi-million-dollar Hensley and Co. Though the difference in payout likely created animosity between the half-sisters, Portalksi confessed that McCain's comments also hurt. "It's terribly painful," Portalski revealed. "It is as if she is the 'real' daughter. I am also a real daughter."

During John McCain's 2008 campaign to be president, his political camp continued with a similar story. In a statement by the official campaign, it claimed, "Mrs. McCain was raised as the only child of Jim and Marguerite Hensley, and there was no familiar relationship with any other sibling."

The beginnings of Cindy McCain and John McCain

A young Cindy Hensley joined her parents on a family vacation to Hawaii in 1979. There, at a military reception, she met a vet who had separated from his wife but was still married: the man in question, of course, was future Senator John McCain. Cindy and John were married the next year in Phoenix, according to Biography. However, as The Washington Post noted, the romance reportedly started with deception from both parties: "John pretended to be younger and Cindy pretended to be older. They discovered the 18-year age difference (he was 43, she was 25) when they applied for their marriage license and wed in 1980."

It was only a couple years later when John looked to start a career in politics. In 1982, he first ran for a seat in Congress to represent Arizona and, according to The New York Times, John and Cindy "worked the district together one door at a time." Since that first year, Cindy always "had a role in her husband's elections."

Cindy McCain's role as a mother

Though it's an honor to hold a position in the United States Senate, it can also be taxing on family life. Cindy McCain and John McCain chose to start a family in their home state of Arizona, rather far from his post in Washington D.C. According to The Washington Post, the McCains "decided to raise their children in Phoenix, treating John's time in Washington as a weekly deployment." The article explained that John returned to the Valley of the Sun "almost every weekend and congressional breaks, and the family usually retreated to their beloved ranch, Hidden Valley, near Sedona."

In addition to their three biological children — Meghan, Jack, and James McCain — the married couple adopted a daughter named Bridget McCain. Luckily for all four children, each have received a percentage of Cindy's family business, Hensley and Co., per The New York Times. However, Meghan has become the most famous as a controversial talk show host for The View. As Cindy explained with a laugh in a 2018 interview with CBS This Morning, "Meghan is certainly entitled to and ... speaks her mind, just like her father did."

Following the death of their father in 2018, Cindy picked up an additional responsibility for the children. "My job is to make sure they're OK — that's my job," she told USA Today. "I have gotten calls in the middle of the night. I've gotten calls from ones I didn't ever think that they would call me ... Each situation is different."

The darkest days for Cindy McCain

Despite coming from a well-off family and marrying a future political star, Cindy McCain dealt with a few major challenges in life. Specifically, The Washington Post later recounted, "she overcame both a mild stroke and a prescription drug addiction."

In the '90s, McCain ran a medical charity as one of her philanthropic duties. But in 1994 — a decade before suffering her stroke — federal investigators probed into the "theft of painkillers" and as a result, McCain's "addiction to painkillers was exposed," according to The New York Times. For her part, McCain explained in an interview that she was going through marriage difficulties, partly from husband John McCain's grueling schedule, which consisted of weekdays in Washington D.C. and weekends in Arizona. She also cited an "inability to deal with back pain." As Cindy remembered, "I didn't want my husband to come home to a woman who couldn't function," before claiming that she never told her husband about the back issue because, "I wanted to be the perfect woman in those days."

Of her journey toward sobriety and understanding of drug abuse, Cindy later told Access Hollywood (via HuffPost), "I think it made me a better person as well as a better parent, so I think it would be very important to talk about it and be very upfront about it."

Cindy McCain's philanthropic duties

As an heiress to a vast family fortune, Cindy McCain had the luxury to freely spend her time and choose a career path. Fortunately, she decided to help others with her access to many resources. As lifelong Arizonians, she and her husband, John McCain, founded the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University. In one of her most high-profile roles, Cindy sits as the Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Institute. 

According to McCain Institute, "She oversees the organization's focus on advancing character-driven global leadership based on security, economic opportunity, freedom and human dignity." Cindy additionally serves on the Board of Directors for Project C.U.R.E, a nonprofit that delivers medical supplies and equipment to developing nations. Not to mention, she is also on the leadership council for Too Small To Fail, a childhood development initiative by the Clinton Foundation.

Even though Cindy serves in several high-profile philanthropic roles, she's not afraid to go on the front line to help others. For example, she's traveled to Vietnam to help the charity, Operation Smile. "Cindy always scrubs and goes into the operating room," development director Vonnie Wray told NPR in 2008, explaining that Cindy was "very, very hands on with comforting the parents who are anxious — and perhaps shows them pictures of her own daughter." The McCains' adopted daughter, Bridget, was born with a "severe cleft palate" and was later treated for her condition.

Cindy McCain uses her power to help others

According to her Twitter bio, Cindy McCain is a self-proclaimed humanitarian. Per The Washington Post, however, "Of all her human rights projects, none has captivated Cindy quite like the issue of human trafficking." She claims her passion to protect came as the result of a trip to India. While in the country, Cindy entered a shop to buy a gift for her youngest daughter, Bridget, who the McCains adopted from Bangladesh. In the store, she spotted children who "were probably for sale," according to locals. "I walked out of there and got on my nice airplane, came to my nice house with my nice family, and I didn't do anything," she remembered, adding, "It haunted me." From that moment, Cindy dedicated considerable time and resources, remaining "relentless in her quest to put a stop to" human trafficking. 

In one of Cindy's most high-profile roles, she chairs the McCain Institute's Human Trafficking Advisory Council. "Through her work with the McCain Institute, several partnerships have been formed with anti-trafficking organizations working on solving various aspects of the problem," reads her McCain Institute biography. In addition, she is the co-chair of the human trafficking council for Arizona's governor.

Cindy McCain's life after John McCain

Sadly, the height of Cindy McCain's public recognition came at the expense of the news that her husband, John McCain, had died in 2018. The longtime senator received a funeral fitting for his lifelong service to the United States, first as a member of the Navy and later as a politician. Cindy was left to begin a different life away from her soulmate. To her credit, she didn't appear to slow down one bit. Her schedule consisted of flights around the world for speeches in New York, Switzerland, Germany. All on top of her role as Chair of the Board of Trustees at the McCain Institute in Washington D.C.

"The last thing that John would have wanted me to do was just to sit here alone and cry — and mind you, I've had my moments," Cindy explained to The Washington Post. "One thing he taught me, among so many things, was the importance of getting back up, the importance of keeping doing what you've been doing. I've been doing these things all along. I think the reason people are noticing now is because he's gone." 

For all her extraordinary efforts, Cindy earned three honors in 2019. She received two honorary degrees: one from George Washington University (via Today); the other from the University of Southern California (via USC News). Perhaps most incredible was when the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame inducted Cindy as a member.

The McCain and Biden family friendship

Discussions can become heated on the Senate floor, which was especially true for talks between longtime Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Joe Biden. But once a day at the office finished, these two took off their metaphorical boxing gloves, and their families formed an unlikely bipartisan friendship. 

"It was Jill Biden that was really pushing John to come over and meet me, introduce himself to me," Cindy McCain revealed of her real-life meet-cute to Politico. "I'm so grateful he did, and I'm grateful she did that," because afterwards, "Jill and Joe Biden and my husband and I were such good friends." The families remained close, even through John's battle with brain cancer. Cindy gratefully explained that, during the long struggle and the heartbreak after John's death, former Vice President Biden remained "a remarkable source of inspiration, kindness, and just a shoulder." She reiterated that sentiment in a 2019 tweet, calling Biden "a wonderful man and dear friend," but clarified, "I have no intention of getting involved in presidential politics." 

Though not an endorsement for Biden's 2020 presidential candidacy, Cindy helped out with a video for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. In a tweet, she noted the over-30-year friendship between John and Biden, writing, "I was honored to accept the invitation from the Biden campaign to participate in a video celebrating their relationship." In the video clip, Cindy remembered the two men "would just sit and joke. It was like a comedy show sometimes to watch the two of them."

What does Cindy McCain think about Donald Trump?

As Donald Trump started his presidential campaign, he naturally attacked Democratic contenders and others in the party. More surprisingly — or perhaps not — he also turned to throwing negative comments at members of the Republican party. 

For example, Trump talked about John McCain's military past in 2015. Many people considered McCain a war hero as a former prisoner of war. But Trump was unimpressed by McCain's experience, saying, "Because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured," per the Chicago Tribune. When McCain passed away in 2018, the White House lowered the American flag to half-staff in honor of the fallen politician. But after just two days, the flag returned to fully-raised. "After public outcry, the White House flags were again lowered," but the president reportedly "wasn't invited to McCain's funeral."

In an interview with BBC News, Cindy McCain revealed her feelings about Trump's words regarding her late husband. "I thought it was inappropriate and wrong," she said of Trump claiming the former senator was not a war hero. Noting that the comment hurt her, she added that "it hurt the family too." In a 2019 story by Politico, Cindy further clarified her feelings about the Republican party as it existed under President Trump: "That's not the party that my husband and I belonged to."

Cindy McCain became a cocktail queen

With the heartbreak that came from the passing of John McCain in 2018, Cindy McCain dealt with another unprecedented event two years later. She, like much of the world, had to isolate and lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to her Instagram page, the widow literally kept her spirits high by mixing up cocktails. She posted — almost daily — different "quarantine cocktails," complete with recipes and excellent photographs: from classic cocktails like palomas to Insta-friendly pink, frozen watermelon margaritas to a scorpion in a Death Star tiki bowl to the delight of Star Wars fans.

Maybe Cindy will make a future recipe book out of her delightful quarantine cocktail creations? Her followers certainly seem to be asking for it. Meanwhile, Cindy adorably used her cocktail series to pay tribute to John and provide insight to their long relationship. Posting a snapshot of a dirty martini using a specific ingredient, she wrote, "Elyx was my husband's only vodka he would drink. Here's to you Johnny!"

How much is Cindy McCain worth?

As previously mentioned, after Cindy McCain's father, Jim Hensley, passed away in 2000, he passed along his life's work: specifically, the company he founded, which had turned into one of the biggest beer distributors in the United States, Hensley and Co. According to The New York Times, Cindy McCain received "a controlling 34 percent share of a company with net profits estimated at more than $5 million a year," as of 2008. Per the Hensley and Co. website, the company acquired Golden Eagle Distributors in 2016, turning the business into the largest beer distributor in Arizona, "representing approximately $600 million in sales revenue." Thus, based largely from her majority stake in Hensley and Co., McCain's net worth was estimated to be $300 million in 2020, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

With her large inheritance and continued stream of income, McCain has used her money for philanthropic purposes — but also to buy several homes. Using slick techniques and keeping tight lips, the exact number of homes that she's purchased is unknown. However, according to Zillow, somewhere between six and eleven homes "are under holding companies or trusts controlled by Cindy."