Texas billionaire and former presidential candidate Henry Ross Perot is dead at the age of 89-years-old following a five-month fight with leukemia.
Perot, whose 19% of the vote in 1992 stands among the best showings by an independent candidate in the past century, died early Tuesday at his home in Dallas surrounded by his devoted family, family spokesman James Fuller said.
“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.
As a boy in Texarkana, Texas, Perot delivered newspapers from the back of a pony. He earned his billions in a more modern way, however — by building Electronic Data Systems Corp., which helped other companies manage their computer networks.
Perot first became known to Americans outside of business circles by saying that the U.S. government left behind hundreds of American soldiers who were missing or imprisoned at the end of the Vietnam War. Perot fanned the issue at home and discussed it privately with Vietnamese officials in the 1980s, angering the Reagan administration, which was formally negotiating with Vietnam’s government.
Perot’s wealth, fame and a confident prescription for the nation’s economic ills propelled his 1992 campaign against President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. 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.”
Perot’s second campaign four years later was less successful, receiving just 8% of the vote.
However, Perot’s ideas on trade and deficit reduction remained part of the political landscape. He blamed both major parties for running up a huge federal budget deficit and letting American jobs to be sent to other countries. The movement of U.S. jobs to Mexico, he said, created a “giant sucking sound.”
In 2008, he launched a website to highlight the nation’s debt with a ticker that tracked the rising total, a blog, and a chart presentation.
“Ross was the unusual combination of his father, who was a powerful, big, burly cotton trader — a hard-ass, practical, cut-deals person — and a mother who was a little-bitty woman who was sweet, warm, wonderful,” said Morton Meyerson, the former EDS and Perot Systems CEO. “Ross was tough, smart, practical, loved to negotiate. But he had a warm and kind heart, too.”
Perot was born in Texarkana on June 27, 1930. His father was a cotton broker; his mother a secretary.
Perot is survived by his wife Margot, along with his five children and 16 grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.