Ross Perot, the billionaire tycoon who mounted two unsuccessful third-party presidential campaigns in the 1990s, died Tuesday, family spokesman James Fuller confirmed to CNN. He was 89.
Perot died after a five-month battle with leukemia, Fuller said.
A billionaire by his mid-50s after he sold a controlling interest in the data processing business he founded to General Motors for $2.5 billion, Perot’s foray into presidential politics made him one of the more colorful political figures of the 1990s.
His Texas twang, populist platform – he memorably railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement, warning of a “giant sucking sound” of American jobs to other countries if passed – and frequent TV appearances brought him wide recognition, and his 1992 campaign, in which he garnered nearly 19% of the vote and finished third behind Bill Clinton and incumbent President George H.W. Bush, remains one of the most successful third-party bids in American history.
For years, Bush blamed Perot for his defeat, saying in a 2012 HBO documentary that he believed Perot “cost me the election.” Election experts and scholarly research, however, has challenged that theory: The New York Times found Perot’s effect on the outcome of the election “appears to have been minimal,” and The Washington Post reported Clinton would have still won by a large margin if Perot hadn’t run.
In 1995, Perot created the Reform Party, and the following year received 8% of the vote in the presidential election as the party’s candidate.
Following his second and final bid for the presidency, Perot served as president and CEO of Perot Systems Corporation, which he founded in 1988. He was the head of the company until 2000, when he passed the title on to his son, Ross Perot Jr.
Nine years later, Dell Incorporated bought Perot Systems for $3.9 billion, which was a net gain of about $400 million for the Perot family.
Aside from his business and political careers, Perot also received national attention for his efforts during the Vietnam War to create better conditions for US prisoners of war. He traveled to Laos, where he met with ambassadors from Russia and North Vietnam, and was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Public Service by the Department of Defense in 1974 for his efforts. In 1979, when two EDS employees were taken hostage during a revolution in Iran, he organized and paid for a successful private mission called Operation Hotfoot to rescue the men and bring them home.
“In business and in life, Ross was a man of integrity and action. A true American patriot and a man of rare vision, principle and deep compassion, he touched the lives of countless people through his unwavering support of the military and veterans and through his charitable endeavors,” Fuller said in a statement. “Ross Perot will be deeply missed by all who loved him. He lived a long and honorable life.”