Howard Hughes was an American billionaire. A tycoon, he was also an aviation pioneer who dabbled in movie making. But he was perhaps best known for his eccentric lifestyle.
Hughes was born in Texas in 1905, either in Houston or Humble. His date of birth is also uncertain. Hughes would immodestly insist throughout his life that he was born on Christmas Eve. He came from a very wealthy family. His father made a fortune inventing and patenting a drill-bit for oil wells. Hughes’ mother was obsessed with hygiene and insisted her son wash and clean constantly. Hughes subsequently developed a morbid fear of contagion and illness.
Between 1922 and 1924, Hughes lost both his parents. He inherited their assets, becoming one of the richest men alive before he was even 20.
In 1926 he moved to Hollywood and began producing movies, including Two Arabian Knights, which won an Oscar for best director. In 1930, Hughes produced and directed Hell’s Angels, an account of World War One’s flying aces. He spent almost four million dollars on the movie, an enormous sum for the time. But the movie’s proceeds doubled Hughes’ investment.
Two years later he financed the gangster movie Scarface, directed by the legendary Howard Hawks. In 1941, he directed The Outlaw, a provocative Western that featured a captivating performance by the sensual actress Jane Russell.
Hughes also invested heavily in aviation. He designed and built most of his own aircraft and usually test-flew them himself. In 1938 he became the first aviator to fly around the world nonstop in less than four days. In 1946, while flying a prototype of reconnaissance plane, he crashed and nearly died. The next year, he unveiled the H-4 Hercules. The plane’s nearly 100-meter wingspan remains unrivaled to this day.
Hughes’ private life also attracted considerable attention. His mistresses included Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, and Katharine Hepburn. As he grew older, Hughes began to show signs of a pathological fear of disease and infection. Refusing human contact, he shut himself in darkened rooms, running his empire from afar. He spent the final years of his life living in hotels, moving from one city to another. He ate and slept less, and abused drugs and medications.
Hughes died on April 5, 1976. He was 70. He died in flight, while traveling from Mexico to the United States. His fortune was estimated at $2.5 billion.