Harold Simmons dies at 82; Dallas billionaire and GOP donor


Dallas billionaire and heavyweight GOP political donor Harold Simmons, who gave tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, has died. He was 82.

Simmons, born to two school teachers in East Texas, became one of the richest men in the country with interests ranging from energy to chemicals. His spokesman Chuck McDonald said Simmons died Saturday in Dallas but did not disclose the cause.

Simmons made his fortune as a Texas corporate raider nicknamed the “Ice Man” after structuring leveraged takeover bids using junk bonds in the 1970s and ‘80s. He is listed at No. 40 on Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, with a net worth of $10 billion as of the fall.


He contributed hundreds of millions to Texas organizations, including charities, medical groups, education groups and civic organizations. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern Medical Center, said Simmons’ donations to that institution alone approached $200 million.

Simmons was born in 1931 in Wood County, Texas, in a home without electricity or plumbing. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Texas, he worked as a bank auditor.

He decided at age 29 to buy a small Dallas drugstore, according to a biography on his foundation’s website. He went on to buy Williams Drug Co. in 1966 and 30 more drugstores the next year, followed by an $18-million buyout of Ward’s Drugstores in 1969. He sold his stores in 1973 for $50 million in Eckerd stock. He then started a career as an investor, buying major positions in publicly traded companies.

His investment in titanium products maker Valhi Inc. typified his ability to recognize underpriced assets and exploit his adeptness for numbers and finance, skills that led him to the forefront of the leveraged buyout craze of the 1980s.

Over the years, he owned a sugar beet processor, a savings and loan and fast-food restaurants. He made headline-generating, if unsuccessful, bids to buy defense contractor Lockheed Corp. and Pacific Southwest Airlines.

In 2008, Simmons bankrolled ads linking then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to William Ayers, a Vietnam-era militant who helped found the violent Weather Underground. Simmons was also a key backer of the Swift Boat Veterans’ attacks on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.


Simmons was estranged from two of his daughters after a dispute and lawsuit over their family trusts. His survivors include his wife, Annette Simmons, whom he married in 1980; his four daughters from two previous marriages; and two stepchildren.