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3-min read

Ross Perot, US Billionaire Who Sought Presidency, Passes Away Aged 89

The trailblazing Texas tycoon, technology pioneer and philanthropist died at his Dallas home after a five-month battle with leukemia.

AFP

Updated:July 10, 2019, 12:33 PM IST
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Ross Perot, US Billionaire Who Sought Presidency, Passes Away Aged 89
Ross Perot. (Reuters)
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Washington: Ross Perot, the self-made billionaire and computer industry giant whose two runs for president as an outsider shook up American politics, died Tuesday at 89, his family said.

“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 endeavours,” the family said in a statement.

The trailblazing Texas tycoon, technology pioneer and philanthropist died at his Dallas home, after what the Dallas Morning News described as a five-month battle with leukemia.

Perot delivered a shock performance as an independent in the 1992 presidential race, capturing 19 per cent of the vote and syphoning off conservative support. He memorably warned of a "giant sucking sound" of US jobs moving to Mexico, striking populist themes that would resurface later in the conservative Tea Party Movement and Donald Trump's 2016 White House campaign.

Perot's strong showing, also fuelled by his clarion call to slash government deficits, helped seal Democrat Bill Clinton's victory over incumbent George H.W. Bush.

No other independent or third-party candidate has won such a large slice of the vote since 1912, and he foretold the impact that strong, focused third-party campaigns could have on modern White House race.

His deft use of half-hour infomercials about himself and his candidacy proved popular, as were his memorable debate appearances alongside Clinton and Bush in 1992.

When Bush asked what experience Perot had to run the country, the retort from Perot -- who spent $63 million of his fortune on the race -- was a corker.

"I don't have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt," Perot fired back in his high-pitched twang.

"I don't have any experience in gridlock government where nobody takes responsibility for anything and everybody blames everybody else ... but I do have a lot of experience in getting things done."

Four years later Perot ran again, on the Reform Party ticket. But he did not fare as well, and Clinton was re-elected.

Perot's first campaign caused a schism between him and the Bush family, with fellow Texan George W. Bush blaming Perot for denying his father a second term. On Tuesday, the 43rd president hailed Perot as an American icon. "Texas and America have lost a strong patriot," Bush said in a statement. "Ross Perot epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit and the American creed."

Hero to many

Perot was born in Texarkana, eastern Texas in 1930, during the Great Depression. After graduating from the US Naval Academy and spending four years in the military, Perot worked for IBM, selling computers in Texas.

He later founded Electronic Data Systems in the 1960s, becoming a titan of the technology industry — and a billionaire in 1984 when he sold EDS to General Motors for $2.5 billion. He launched a second data firm, Perot Systems, which computer maker Dell acquired for $3.9 billion.

Slight in stature but brash and confident, Perot was known for more than his populist presidential ambitions and business savvy. He became a hero to many in 1969 when he flew two jetliners filled with food to Southeast Asia in an attempt to help Americans held captive in North Vietnam.

Ten years later, during the Islamic revolution in Iran, Perot organized and funded a commando team to free two EDS employees held hostage in a Tehran prison, a mission chronicled in Ken Follett's best-selling book “On Wings of Eagles”. He has donated tens of millions of dollars to charity, including to museums and hospitals.

Ross Perot Jr said his father ran for president because he loved his country. "It wasn't for personal gain," he said, according to the Dallas Morning News. "He was a businessman, frustrated by what was going on, and wanted to help fix the country."

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