Texas billionaire Ross Perot dies at age 89

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Republican Ross Perot Campaigning for Presidential Primaries (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)

Texas businessman, philanthropist and former politician Ross Perot has died. He was 89.

The self-made billionaire who rose from a childhood of depression-era poverty and twice ran for president lost his battle with cancer early Tuesday at his Dallas home.

The Perot family released a statement saying he was surrounded by loved ones at his passing.

Ross Perot wanted to run the country much like he ran his billion-dollar business. His two runs for the White House may not have been successful but he struck a chord with voters and shook up America’s political landscape in the process.

In 1992 and 1996, Perot mobilized over five million voters to get him on the ballot and was the most successful third party presidential candidate in United States history.

But the wealthy businessman had humble roots. He was born as Henry Ross Perot on June 27, 1930 in Texarkana, Texas. And what his family lacked in money, they made up for with values.

“I learned that it doesn’t matter what happens to you. What matters is did you do the right thing,” he once said.

Perot was a proud Eagle Scout who studied at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was class president and a battalion commander.

After graduation, he served four years in the Navy where he fell in love with a young teacher named Margot Burmingham, who would become his wife. They went on to have five children.

Perot’s first civilian job was a salesman for IBM. But he had bigger dreams. In 1962, with a $1,000 loan from his wife, he started the computer processing company Electronic Data Systems. It’s a business he would sell 22 years later for $2.25 billion.

In 1969, the Defense Department recognized Perot for his work getting aide to POWs in Vietnam. Ten years later, he bribed an Iranian revolutionary group to storm a prison there so two of his employees could escape.

He paid the group an undisclosed amount of cash and said the U.S. government had no knowledge of his plan.

The world truly took notice of Perot in 1992 after he announced the possibility of running for president against President George W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. A huge grassroots effort was mobilized.

“Certainly if anyone in this country should be obligated to serve our country and its people, I should be,” he said.

Perot became the head of a newly formed Reform Party, promising to cut waste and eliminate deficits that he blamed on previous administrations.

"Maybe it was voodoo economics. Whatever it was, we are now in deep voodoo, I'll tell you that. Ha, ha, ha,” he said.

During the campaign, Perot spent $63.5 million of his own money and bought up 30-minute television spots. He used charts and graphs to make his points, summarizing them with a line that became a national catchphrase: "It's just that simple." 

But his unconventional behavior and style hurt the campaign. Perot and his running mate, retired Vice Admiral James Stockdale, backed out of the race in July but still won 19% of the vote. That was more than any other third-party candidate ever.

His second run in 1996 was not as successful, though it cemented his legacy as a colorful and unique political figure.

In Texas, Perot led commissions on education reform and crime. He was given many honorary degrees and awards for business success and patriotism.

While he worked at Perot Systems in suburban Dallas, entire hallways were filled with memorabilia from soldiers and POWs that Perot had helped. His personal office was dominated by large paintings of his wife and five children and bronze sculptures by Frederic Remington. 

His family donated $50 million to help build the popular Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.

Perot is survived by his wife and his five children, as well as numerous grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

Instead of flowers, his family asked that people make a contribution to one of his favorite Texas charities: the Circle Ten Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the Salvation Army DFW, the North Texas Food Bank, the Visiting Nurse Association of Texas and Teach for America.

"An act of kindness to a friend, neighbor or stranger in your community will further honor his memory and celebrate," the Perot family said.

Information about his memorial and services is available at www.rossperot.com/memorials.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.