Howard Hughes was a record-breaking aviator, hugely successful businessman, acclaimed film director and noted philanthropist. But his many significant achievements have often been overshadowed by his extensive range of quirks and eccentricities. From urine storing to extreme binge-watching, here are 20 reasons why Hughes has been deemed the most bizarre billionaire ever.
20. He wore Kleenex boxes on his feet
Hughes was famously afraid of germs and went to great lengths to ensure that he was kept safe from them. So, as well as making anyone who came into close contact with him place paper towels over their hands, Hughes also used Kleenex tissue boxes over his feet in the belief that they would protect him from any harm.
19. He made employees store his urine
Hughes’ employees were regularly at the receiving end of the mogul’s bizarre and often unsanitary quirks. During his later years, for example, he regularly used a container to urinate in, which he’d then pass to staff for storage. He’d also often miss the toilet completely when using the bathroom, leaving his poor workers to have to wipe away any resulting puddles.
18. Staff were forced to disinfect tons of food
Hughes’ lackeys had to put up with some pretty odd demands in the kitchen too. Perhaps as a result of Hughes’ OCD, the simple task of serving the magnate a tin of peaches came with a list of rules by itself. Staff had to disinfect, wash, scrub and then rewash the tin before pouring its contents into a clean bowl untouched by human hand.
17. He had a pea-related compulsion
And peaches weren’t the only foodstuff that Hughes had a particular regime for. The billionaire also had a very time-consuming habit he adhered to each time that he was served peas. That’s right: in particular, he had to organize the helping of vegetables in order of size before putting a single one in his mouth.
16. He was obsessed with a particular ice cream
And then there was Hughes’ obsession with a particular brand of ice cream. Dismayed by Baskin-Robbins’ decision to cease production of its Banana Nut flavor, the tycoon asked the company to specially make a 350-gallon batch. However, by the time the ice cream was produced and shipped, the fickle Hughes had progressed to another flavor.
15. His mother isolated him as a child
It’s perhaps understandable why Hughes developed so many fears over germs, since he was left completely isolated from the rest of society as a child by his over-protective mother. And the reason? She believed that her son would contract polio if he was to come into close contact with anyone else.
14. He communicated with his wife largely through memos
Hughes’ second marriage to actress Jean Peters may have lasted 14 years, but it wasn’t exactly a conventional one. Not only did the pair live in separate houses for some of their time together, but they barely saw each other in person. In fact, most of their correspondence was conducted through memos.
13. He sparked a public outcry against his own film
Hughes apparently believed the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Frustrated by the banning of his film The Outlaw for breaking Tinseltown’s production codes, the director subsequently sparked a public furor against the movie as a way of getting it released. Three years later, The Outlaw, which starred Jane Russell, eventually hit theaters and became a belated box-office success.
12. He reinvented the modern hospital bed
Hughes couldn’t sit still, even when in hospital with broken bones resulting from an airplane crash. And as the tycoon was frustrated with his bed causing him even more discomfort, he therefore arranged for various technicians to create a brand new angle-adjustable one that would also be a source of running cold and hot water. Hughes recuperated before it was completed; however, the finished product effectively reinvented the contemporary hospital bed.
11. He once bought a hotel that he refused to leave
Having stayed past his allotted two weeks at LA’s Desert Inn Hotel, Hughes was asked by the manager to pack up and go. Instead of leaving, however, the billionaire simply purchased the property to ensure he could remain there. He also snapped up the adjoining Sands Hotel just so he could take down the neon sign that had been a constant source of irritation.
10. He watched movies for four months straight
Binge-viewing isn’t an entirely new concept. Indeed, Hughes once spent four months doing nothing but enjoying movies in a projection room he hired at Santa Monica Boulevard’s Goldwyn Studios. There he wore nothing but a small towel, lived off a diet of milk, nuts and confectionery and used containers in which to urinate.
9. He went to extremes to avoid paying taxes
Hughes may have had billions in the bank, but he wasn’t averse to the odd tax-dodging scheme. The mogul’s choice to permanently live in various hotels was inspired by the fact that he wouldn’t have to name an official residence on his tax form. He also avoided a hefty estate tax bill for Hughes Aircraft by gifting his stock to a newly formed tax-exempt charity.
8. He never met his right-hand man
Robert Maheu was integral to Hughes’ success in Las Vegas. He advised the billionaire on many of the gambling joints that Hughes purchased on the strip. Maheu also helped to eradicate the criminal influence on these properties before he and Hughes parted ways in 1970. Yet in the 15 years they worked together, the pair didn’t meet in person on a single occasion.
7. The Spruce Goose only flew once
Co-created with Henry J. Kaiser, the Spruce Goose was one of several Hughes airplanes financed by the U.S. government that failed to reach combat. However, angered by claims that this particular model couldn’t even make it into the air, Hughes organized and heavily promoted a test flight that proved it could. The aircraft never flew again and is now kept in an Oregon museum.
6. Hughes was the inspiration for Iron Man
Hughes’ influence on popular culture extends far beyond the films he made in the mid-20th century. His life story was, of course, adapted for the big screen in Martin Scorsese’s five-time Oscar-winning biopic The Aviator. And Hughes was also the inspiration for one of Stan Lee’s many popular Marvel characters, Tony Stark – otherwise known as Iron Man.
5. He was the victim of a con
One particularly unsavory chapter of Hughes’ later life also inspired a movie. The 2006 flick The Hoax saw Richard Gere play Clifford Irving, the author who claimed to have co-written a biography of Hughes with the man himself. After hearing about the claims, however, Hughes declared the whole thing a scam. Irving was subsequently charged with fraud and ultimately spent just under a year and a half behind bars.
4. He had numerous affairs with Hollywood actresses
As you might expect from such a powerful man, Hughes had plenty of women falling at his feet during his prime. In fact, he soon became known as one of Hollywood’s ultimate ladies’ men. Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner and sisters Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland were just some of the A-list names who dated the eccentric billionaire.
3. He was involved in a CIA submarine recovery plot
Following the inadvertent sinking of a Soviet submarine believed to contain vital intelligence in 1968, the U.S. organized a covert plot to retrieve the vessel. The ship constructed for the mission was then said to be part of a new mineral-mining enterprise for Hughes. Sadly, the operation was unsuccessful, and a confidential document linking it to the tycoon was made public in 1975.
2. Hughes weighed just 87 pounds when he died
Sadly, Hughes ended his days in a sorry state. Following a fall caused by his dependence on Valium, doctors commented that the then-67-year-old had the body of a man 20 years his senior. Hughes died from kidney failure just three years later, in 1976, weighing an emaciated 87 pounds. Five detached hypodermic needles, used to impart codeine, were also discovered embedded in his arms.
1. His estate took 34 years to be settled
Hughes died without making a will, which may explain why his estate took a whopping 34 years to sort out. And numerous chancers came forward to try and claim his fortune without much luck, although actress Terry Moore was awarded “not more than eight figures” in 1983 after insisting she had wed Hughes secretly at sea. Hughes’ estate was finally settled in 2010.