Australia’s richest man, media mogul Kerry Packer, known throughout the world for his love of sports and gambling, has died at 68.
Packer – listed by Forbes magazine this year as the 94th richest man in the world with a £2.8 billion fortune – died at his Sydney home yesterday, according to a family statement released through his Nine Network national television broadcaster.
“He died peacefully at home with his family at his bedside,” the statement said.
He amassed his billions from his family company, Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd, which he inherited from his father. He handed the day-to-day running of the giant company to his son James some years ago.
The media empire included Australia’s most popular television network and a stable of profitable magazines.
While Packer’s business empire made his name in Australia, it was his love of sports and gambling that earned him worldwide fame.
In 1977, he reinvented limited-overs cricket to make it more appealing to a mass television audience.
Players in the Packer-backed World Series Cricket swapped their traditional white clothing for multi-coloured uniforms disparagingly referred to by some as pyjamas.
The new format was attacked as gaudy by traditionalists, but helped revitalise the game. It was also controversial because it featured players from South Africa who were at that time subject to sporting sanctions aimed at ending their country’s apartheid regime.
The Australian and South African cricket teams stood for a minute’s silence in memory of Packer in Melbourne before play started on day two of the second Test.
Packer will be missed by casino bosses around the world.
He haunted baccarat tables at casinos from London to Las Vegas and his love of gambling inspired him to buy Melbourne’s Crown Casino complex, Australia’s largest. PBL is also developing casinos in Macau with Asian businessman Stanley Ho.
Reports of huge losses in the tens of millions surfaced from time to time but Packer either refused to comment on them or brushed them off.
Son of newspaper and magazine mogul Sir Frank Packer, Kerry began his career in the industry at 19, working in the printing room of his father’s Daily Telegraph newspaper in Sydney.
Packer was trained in all aspects of his father’s business except as a reporter. He had shown little academic ability at school, later attributed to the eye condition dyslexia, and was not considered journalistic material.
Packer was not first in line to take over the running of his father’s empire, but his older brother Clyde fell out with his father in 1972, and remained largely estranged from the remaining Packer family until his death in 2001.
Packer was announced as chairman of Australian Consolidated Press, now the magazine publishing subsidiary of PBL, in 1974, a few days after his father’s funeral.
Packer inherited two television stations, five radio stations, nine provincial newspapers and the biggest magazine publishing company in the country. The Daily Telegraph had been sold two years earlier to rival Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
By the late 1980s, Packer had acquired another magazine business, bought and sold the nation’s largest engineering company and expanded programming at Nine.
Packer also bought property and in the late 1980s became one of Australia’s largest landowners and cattle barons. His Australian properties were said to cover an area bigger than Belgium.
The powerful businessman was courted by prime ministers and was credited with using his media empire to make or break governments.
However, he was not a one-party supporter – according to former Labour Party prime minister Bob Hawke, Packer “preferred winners to losers”.
In 1987, Packer made the deal of a lifetime when he sold his two television stations to up-and-coming entrepreneur Alan Bond for one billion Australian dollars – Packer’s own financial advisers believed the stations were worth just 400 million dollars).
Packer bought the TV stations back three years later for just 200 million dollars.
A giant of a man who was said to live on hamburgers and milkshakes, Packer was nonetheless a keen sports fan and in the 1980s began devoting his time and money to the sport of polo.
The family statement did detail the cause of his death, but Packer had long been plagued by ill health.
In 2000, he received a new kidney donated by his long-time helicopter pilot and friend Nick Ross. The operation left him without either of his own kidneys - the first was removed in the 1980s after doctors found it to be cancerous.
In 1990, he had a heart attack while playing polo and his heart stopped for about seven minutes before he was revived by paramedics using a defibrillator.
Days later, he donated three million dollars to equip all ambulances in New South Wales state with defibrillators. Machines bought with the donations were irreverently branded “Packer Whackers”.
He had heart bypass surgery later in 1990, but had a second heart attack in 1995.
According to journalist Paul Barry, author of the unofficial biography The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer, the billionaire’s power “was frightening to some, but to others he seemed to be a champion of Australian values and the common man”.
Kerry Packer is survived by his wife of 42 years, Roslyn; a son and a daughter, James and Gretel.