Episode 129: Howard Hughes: Playboy to Madman

This episode is brought to you by El Yucateco

This episode of The Sofa King Podcast looks at the life and legacy of Howard Hughes. Born to a wealthy oil-industry magnate on December 24th, 1905, Hughes lived a life of privilege. His father created a drill bit that allowed for the Texas oil boom to occur, and his mother was a strange woman obsessed with Howard’s health. She inspected him every day for signs of polio and washed him fanatically—two things that may have played into his obsession about germs later in life.

Both of his parents died within two years of each other, and Howard inherited a massive fortune at the age of 18. Soon after, he dropped out of college and moved to Hollywood to become a film maker and a playboy. One website lists 47 starlets who he had relations with during his youth, many of them the biggest stars of the era. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee has said in numerous interviews that Howard Hughes was his inspiration for Tony Stark and Iron Man. Hughes, like Stark, let his father’s business keep adding to his fortune, while he played around and lived the high life.

After he began producing films, however, he got bit by the bug for aviation. He filmed a movie about World War One flying aces called Hell’s Angels that cost a record-setting $4 Million dollars to film. On the set, three pilots crashed and died, and Hughes himself crashed while filming. But that was far from his last crash. The Hughes Aircraft Company opened in the 1930s, and he built ground-breaking planes with money as no object. And he flew them himself, often when no other test pilot was brave enough. He even owned the majority of the airline TWA for years.

Through this work, he made connections with the US air force during WWII and secured contracts to develop new airplanes to help win the war. One such contracted led to the creation of the infamous Spruce Goose, which flew only once, with Hughes at the helm. However, in 1946, he had an airplane crash that almost killed him, and he changed forever.

He became reclusive and overcome with OCD behaviors. His obsessive compulsion disorder forced him to eat particular and strange foods and live in hotel penthouses for years at a time, never leaving. He went from a dashing young millionaire to a crazy, pained billionaire in his old age. He bought hotel after hotel just to have places to stay without being interrupted, and he even bought a TV station just to air the movies he wanted to watch from his room atop the Desert Inn in Vegas.

How crazy did Hughes get? What was his involvement in the CIA’s Project Azorian? How many hotels did he buy? What crazy foods did he eat (and how did he sort his peas?) How did he finally die, and how many hypodermic needles did the autopsy find broken off in his body? Listen, laugh, learn.

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