Legendary American oil tycoon T Boone Pickens dies aged 91 at his home in Texas

  • Sep 11, 2019
  • Daily Mail Australia

Famed energy tycoon and renowned entrepreneur T Boone Pickens has died at 91 years old.

Pickens passed away from natural causes at his home in Dallas, Texas, on Wednesday afternoon surrounded by family.

A spokesperson for the family, Jay Rosser, said Pickens had been on hospice care since last Thursday. Rosser said his health deteriorated after he suffered a series of strokes in 2017 and was hospitalized in July of that year from a 'Texas-sized fall'.

Pickens, first name Thomas, was known to his friends as 'Boone' and to the oil industry as the 'Oracle of Oil'.

The self-made billionaire is remembered as a maverick who propelled himself from laborer to corporate legend, often through means deemed dishonorable by his rivals.

At the height of his wealth in 2007, Pickens was estimated to be worth $3billion. By the time of his death, his net worth had fallen to an estimated $500million. The decline is in large part due to the more than $1billion to he donated to philanthropic and educational causes.

'I like making money. I like giving money away. Giving money is not as fun as making it, but it's a close second,' the titan is quoted as saying more than once.

Pickens announced his retirement from the oil and gas industry in January 2018, citing health reasons. At the time he wrote on LinkedIn: 'It's no secret the past year has not been good to me. It's time to start making new plans and setting new priorities.'

He continued: 'It has been one hell of a roller coaster ride. I've seen oil prices bounce around from $10 a barrel up to $147, down to $26 and now appear to be inching up ever so slowly. I'm ecstatic that I've hung on long enough to see it all unfold.'

He remained active on social media following his retirement, even posting on Twitter from hospice five days before his death.

Pickens' last big public appearance was his 90th birthday celebration at the Dallas Country Club, where 500 guests - including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones - wore Oklahoma State University orange in his honor.

Also in attendance was one of Pickens' closest friends, retired banker Alan White, who told the Dallas Morning News on Wednesday: 'Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Do not go where the path might lead, but instead go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." That was Boone.

'Boone was always going some place where there was no path. He left trails all of his life. Many of us had the good fortune of being able to follow along with him.'

Pickens spent most of his adult life in Dallas. He also owned a sprawling 68,000-acre property in the Panhandle called Mesa Vista Ranch, where he hosted George Strait, Dick Cheney, Nancy Reagan, Ted Turner and George W Bush.

In a statement Wednesday, former President Bush called Pickens 'bold, imaginative, and daring'.

'He was successful - and more importantly, he generously shared his success with institutions and communities across Texas and Oklahoma,' Bush said. 'He loved the outdoors, his country, and his friends and family.'

Pickens is survived by five children, 11 grandchildren and 'an increasing number of great-grandchildren', according to his website.

He was married five times: to Lynn O'Brien from 1942 to 1971, to Beatrice Carr from 1972 to 1988, to Nelda Cain from 2000 to 2004, to Madeleine A Pickens from 2005 to 2012 and to Toni Chapman Brinker from 2014 to 2017.

Memorial services will be held in Dallas and Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Pickens will be buried at buried at Stillwaters' Karsten Creek Golf Club, home to the golf team of his beloved alma mater OSU.

The 91-year-old was the third Dallas-based billionaire to die this year, the first two being Ross Perot and Herb Kelleher.

'Herb, Boone and my father were members of our society who will never be replaced,' Ross Perot Jr told the Morning News.

'They were unique, quality, driven men who had larger-than-life personalities and who made a huge, positive impact on our community and our country.

'I feel so blessed that the Lord allowed me to know a man like Boone Pickens.'

Pickens was born in Holdenville, Oklahoma, in 1928.

His father was a landman, someone who secures mineral-rights leases for oil and gas drilling, and his mother ran a government office that handled gasoline-rationing coupons for a three-county area during World War II.

A child of the Depression, Pickens credited his father with teaching him to take risks and praised his grandmother for lessons in being frugal. If young Boone continued to leave the lights on after leaving a room, she declared, she would hand the electric bill to the boy so he could pay it.

Pickens went to work by age 12, getting a newspaper route. He expanded it by buying the routes on either side of his - marking his first venture into acquisitions.

Although only 5-foot-8, Pickens was a star guard on his high school basketball team in Amarillo, Texas, and earned a sports scholarship to Texas A&M University. He lost the scholarship when he broke an elbow, and he transferred to Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State.

After graduating with a degree in geology, he joined Phillips Petroleum Co, where his father, T Boone Pickens Sr, was working in 1956. The younger Pickens was unhappy with his job from the start.

After just three years, he borrowed some money and found two investors to start his own business, Petroleum Exploration, launching his reputation as a maverick unafraid to compete against oil-industry giants.

The company was a predecessor to Mesa Petroleum, an oil and gas company in Amarillo, which Pickens took public in 1964.

In the 1980s, as the stock of the major petroleum producers was so cheap that it became cheaper to get new oil reserves by taking over a company than by drilling, Pickens switched from drilling for oil to plumbing for riches on Wall Street.

He led bids to take over big oil companies including Gulf, Phillips and Unocal, castigating their executives as looking out only for themselves while ignoring the shareholders.

Even when Pickens and other so-called corporate raiders failed to gain control of their targets, they scored huge payoffs by selling their shares back to the company and dropping their hostile takeover bids.

In 1984, Mesa Petroleum made a profit of more than $500million from a hostile bid for Gulf Corp, then the fifth-largest oil company in the United States, when Gulf maneuvered to sell itself instead to Chevron. Before that, Pickens earned $31.5million by driving Cities Service into the arms of Occidental Petroleum.

That same year Pickens launched a bid for his old employer, Phillips Petroleum. It was an unpopular move in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where Phillips was headquartered. Residents held 24-hour prayer vigils to support the company.

'He's only after the almighty buck,' G.C. Richardson, a retired executive of Cities Services, said in 1985. 'He's nothing but a pirate.'

Pickens insisted that he was a friend of ordinary shareholders, who benefited when his forays caused the stock price of a company to rise.

Pickens' star faded in the 1990s. He lost control of debt-ridden Mesa, and his bullishness on natural gas prices turned out to be a costly mistake.

After leaving Mesa, Pickens in 1996 started BP Capital Management, a billion-dollar hedge fund focused on energy commodities and equities that delivered mammoth gains.

Later in his career, Pickens championed renewable energy including wind power. He argued that the United States needed to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. He sought out politicians to support his 'Pickens Plan,' which envisioned an armada of wind turbines across the middle of the country that could generate enough power to free up natural gas for use in vehicles.

'I've been an oilman all my life, but this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of,' he said in 2009.

Pickens' advocacy for renewable energy led to some unusual alliances. He had donated to many Republican candidates since the 1980s, and in the 2004 presidential campaign he helped bankroll television ads by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that attacked Democratic nominee John Kerry. A few years later, Pickens endorsed a Kerry proposal to limit climate change.

Pickens couldn't duplicate his oil riches in renewable energy. In 2009, he scrapped plans for a huge Texas wind farm after running into difficulty getting transmission lines approved, and eventually his renewables business failed.

'It doesn't mean that wind is dead,' Pickens said at the time. 'It just means we got a little bit too quick off the blocks.'

Pickens flirted with marketing water from West Texas, acquiring water rights in the early 2000s in hopes of selling it to thirsty cities. But he couldn't find a buyer, and in 2011 he signed a deal with nearby regional water supplier to sell the water rights beneath 211,000 acres for $103million.

In 2007, Forbes magazine estimated Pickens' net worth at $3billion. He eventually slid below $1billion and off the magazine's list of wealthiest Americans. In 2016, the magazine put his worth at $500million.

Besides his peripatetic business and political interests, Pickens made huge donations to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University - the football stadium and School of Geology both bear his name, and he gave $100million for endowed faculty positions.

In a statement Wednesday, OSU President Burns Hargis called Pickens the 'ultimate Cowboy'. Hargis said it was impossible to calculate Pickens' full impact on the school and that his 'mark on our university will last forever'.

The university is planning to hold a public ceremony to honor Pickens at the Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater.

Pickens' foundation gave $50million each to the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. He was among those who signed a 'giving pledge' started by billionaire investor Warren Buffet and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, promising to donate a majority of his wealth to charity.

'I firmly believe one of the reasons I was put on this Earth was to make money and be generous with it,' he said on his website.