Howard Robard Hughes, Jr.
December 24, 1905 - Houston, Texas
April 5, 1976 - Houston, Texas
Academy Award-winning producer, aviator and businessman. When Howard was three years old, his father patented a new type of drilling bit that revolutionized the petroleum business; as a result, he made a fortune during the exploding Texas oil boom years. When Howard came of age, he was brought up into the business, studied at Rice University, and when his father passed away in 1924, inherited the Hughes Tool Company at the age of nineteen. Set for life, he turned over the day-to-day operations of the business to a few trusted men and began chasing his two obsessions: aviation and motion pictures. Breaking into Hollywood in 1927 purely on the strength of his wallet, he was initially sneered at as just another rich kid until his second film, Two Arabian Knights, won an Academy Award for Best Comedy Direction. Hell’s Angels (1930) and The Front Page (1931) followed, both earning Oscar nominations, and his classic film Scarface (1932) remains one of the most highly-regarded films ever made. A brilliant and handsome ladies man, he had public affairs with several A-list actresses, including Katherine Hepburn, Gene Tierney, Bette Davis and Ava Gardner, before gradually losing interest in the politics of Hollywood movie making and turning his primary interest to aviation - his last important film being the controversial Jane Russell vehicle The Outlaw (1943). He founded the Hughes Aircraft Company and spent every spare moment obsessively designing, building and test piloting innovative new types of airplanes that would break world records in nearly every category. His achievements in the field are legion: his H-1 Racer was the first to have retractable landing gear; he broke his own transcontinental flight records repeatedly; he broke the world record for flying around the globe; and in 1939, he received a Congressional Gold Medal for his unparalleled achievements in aviation. On July 7, 1946, Howard was involved in a disastrous near-fatal accident in his new XF-11 experimental aircraft that caused him massive injuries; it is believed that the painkillers used to treat him, among them morphine and other opiates, began his descent into drug addiction. While recovering, he continued work on what he considered his masterpiece, the Hughes H-4 Hercules, the largest aircraft ever built. Mockingly referred to as the Spruce Goose by the press due to being years behind schedule and far from cost-effective, Howard had the last laugh and finally flew it on November 2, 1947, albeit for a single time. In 1948, he got the itch for motion pictures again and purchased a 25% share of RKO, but by this time he was exhibiting a growing need for total control over everything down to the smallest detail, and production was slow. He finally gained control over the entire studio in 1954 only to lose interest in film once again and sold it the following year. He married actress Jean Peters in 1957, but his compulsive disorders and crippling phobias had grown so severe by this time that he had became reclusive to the point of speaking even to his wife mostly over the phone. He would go months without being seen or heard from by anyone but his personal staff, so that he often had to make personal phone calls to newspapers just to prove that he wasn't dead and to retract the obituary they were working on. He continued his drastic slide into madness and became addicted to other drugs, including Valium and heroin. Stricken with insomnia from his pharmaceutical diet, he bought TV stations just so he could be sure to have something to watch during his long sleepless nights. He moved from one hotel to another, from Beverly Hills to the Bahamas until finally buying the Desert Inn in Las Vegas just so he would always have a home base. He started buying up other casinos around him in an effort to make Las Vegas into something more accessible and family friendly, a side effect of which would be the end of the Mafia's death grip on the city. By 1976, his mind was so cracked from a decades-long spiral of insanity and drugs that his health, always shaky at best, finally exhausted itself. Flying home to a Houston hospital from Acapulco in hopes of medical care, Howard died of kidney failure and malnutrition aboard a small airplane mid-flight. At the time of his death he was physically ruined, weighed less than 90 pounds, his hair and nails grown out of control, broken needles later found in his arms by X-rays. One of the richest, most brilliant minds in the world had to be identified by his fingerprints. He was laid to rest beside his parents, hopefully in the peace he never seemed to find in life.