Howard Hughes had an eccentric personality. Hughes was the richest man of his time, known for his many affairs with celebrities, both male and female. He inherited his riches from his father’s successful business, the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company, which supplied parts to oil drilling companies. Hughes’ younger years included being a film producer, director, pilot, and inventor.
Ironically, as he became older, he became quite removed from society. The
last twenty years of his life, he lived mostly in solitude. He became obsessed with not letting anyone touch him or touch anything around him. He had many assistants, onsite doctors, and cooks, and he also set up many rules for them to follow. He instructed his staff to handle items using Kleenex tissues, and instructed them to do things in a certain orderly fashion, per his precise directions. For instance, if meat was not cut in a certain way, he would return it to the kitchen, and refuse to eat it.
If he saw a spot on an employee’s clothes, he would demand that it be cleaned immediately. It seemed like all the fame, all the responsibility of monetary and business affairs were too much for him. He became paranoid and mistrusting.
Although he had precise rules on aspects of his daily life, he couldn’t and wouldn’t make important business decisions. This made it hard on his on his employees and professional relations to know what to do since Hughes would not instruct them on how to proceed.
Later in his life, he refused to shave, brush his teeth, take a bath, cut his hair or cut his nails. He sat in his own filth, and wouldn’t exercise. At the time, no one really understood Hughes’ peculiar behavior. Perhaps the only cure for such behavior that would have been considered at the time was a lobotomy. However, today we know that Hughes had a phobia for germs and also suffered from a condition called “Obsessive Compulsiveness.”
This is a trait wherein an individual must feel control of things around him or her. It is an urgency that may perhaps seem nonsensical to others, but it is very important to the person with the obsession. Howard Hughes was a genius and with that genius came madness.
He died on April 5, 1976 due to kidney failure and dehydration, and died intestate.
Howard Hughes in 1936 New York Times photo.