Tag Archives: quentin roosevelt

Howard the Odd Duck

(I’ve been on hiatus for the past couple of weeks completing a book, starting a new job, and co-hosting a new television show. But it’s time to get back in the saddle, so to kick off things, here’s a post on one horrendously screwed-up dude.)


Were I living homeless under a bridge urban troll-like at the time, I still wouldn’t have felt my fortunes had fallen low enough to trade lives with rich guy Howard Hughes during the second half of his life.

While initially acclaimed for his brilliance, good looks, charisma, and adventurous spirit, Hughes suffered from the twin ailments of obsessive-compulsive disorder and having a billion dollars (back when that meant something). This kept him surrounded by yes-men who feared their money-teat might dry up if they ever suggested to the boss that he get treatment.

The wheels on the Hughes express first grew wobbly during this week in 1936 – 75 years ago – when he killed a pedestrian while driving drunk in Los Angeles. A witness claimed that Hughes was swerving and driving too fast and that the male victim was standing in a safe area. By the time of the official inquest, the witness’ story had changed to say that the man stepped in front of Hughes’ car. The charge of negligent homicide was dropped and Hughes ended up spending a total of one night in jail.

July was a particularly bad month for Hughes. In July 1946, nearly 10 years to the day after the fatal traffic accident, Hughes was piloting an experimental aircraft over Beverly Hills when he experienced mechanical failure and tried to crash land the plane at the Los Angeles Country Club. He didn’t quite make it to the golf course, instead clipping three mansions in a fiery crash while sustaining numerous near-fatal injuries.

The accident left him with an addiction to pain killers which only worsened his mental condition. He became more reclusive, buying Vegas hotels so that he wouldn’t have to leave his room. He eventually quit cutting his hair and fingernails, and began saving bottles of his own urine. Over the next 30 years, his eccentricity only deepened, and he became a veritable hermit, seen only by a cadre of Mormon attendants.  

By the time of his death in April 1976, Hughes’ physical and mental state had deteriorated so much that he had to be identified by his fingerprints. The 6’4” Hughes only weighed 90 pounds at the end, and the coroner ruled that his death was caused by kidney failure brought on by malnutrition.

In one of history’s great ironies, Howard Hughes, the richest man in the world, literally starved to death.

Here are some other Deadwrite’s Dailies anniversaries to ponder for this week:

Sunday, July 10 – Mel Blanc, the man who gave voice to dozens of classic Warner Bros. animated characters, died on this date in 1989. Blanc was once in a coma from an automobile accident and could only be reached by his doctors when they asked to speak to Bugs Bunny. Blanc answered them in the rabbit’s voice and eventually made a full recovery. He later credited Bugs with saving his life.

Monday, July 11 – Two of entertainment’s greatest – British actor Sir Laurence Olivier (1989) and composer George Gershwin (1937) – passed away on this date. The Gershwin story, helmed by Steven Spielberg, is rumored to be coming to the screen as early as next year.

Wednesday, July 13 – This time of year is historically bad for First Ladies. Both Dolley Madison and Lady Bird Johnson died on this date, and Betty Ford, the widowed wife of former President Gerald Ford, will be buried this week.

Thursday, July 14 – Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of former president Theodore Roosevelt, was killed on this date in 1918 during aerial combat in World War I. As hard as it is to now believe, there was a time in America when the children of politicians, even presidents, served in the military.

This was also the date in 1881 when notorious gunfighter William H. Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, was gunned down by his pal Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory. Everybody has heard of Billy the Kid, but I challenge any but the most ardent Old West fan to name any of the names of the 21 men he reportedly killed during his 21 years on this side of the ground.

The Death of the Old Lion

President Theodore Roosevelt’s energy, charisma, and accomplishments were so legendary that it’s forgotten that he died at the relatively young age of 60, which occurred on this date in 1919. But for a man who only lived for six decades, he had experiences enough to fill several lifetimes.

By the age of 42, Roosevelt had married, gotten elected to the New York State Assembly, written several books, lost his first wife in childbirth, ranched in Dakota Territory, remarried, fathered six children, become Police Commissioner of New York City and governor of New York, served as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, led the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, been elected Vice-President, and had become the youngest president ever after President McKinley’s assassination.

His presidency was one of action in which he practiced “big stick” foreign relations, busted corrupt business trusts, built the Panama Canal, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and created several national parks and monuments.

After leaving office in 1909, his “retirement” proved no less active as he went on safari in Africa, edited a magazine, wrote several more books, created his own political party, ran for president a third time, and got shot during a failed assassination attempt.

So, just what was it that prematurely killed the man who had stared down live gunfire in Cuba, charging rhinos in Africa, and assassin’s bullets on the campaign trail?

A mosquito and a broken heart.

To lick his wounds after his failed presidential run as a third-party candidate in 1912, Roosevelt volunteered to go to Brazil as part of an expedition to discover the source of the 1000-kilometer Rio da Duvida – the River of Doubt – one of the tributaries of the Amazon.

The ill-equipped expedition lasted for several months during the rainy season of 1913-14. Roosevelt spent much of the time delirious from mosquito-borne malaria and eventually lost 50 pounds. At one point, he begged his 24-year-old son Kermit, who was part of the expedition, to leave him in the jungle to die. Kermit carried his father back to civilization, where the elder Roosevelt later wrote about his experiences in a book entitled Through the Brazilian Wilderness.

Roosevelt’s body never fully recovered and he told friends that his time in South America had shaved a decade off of his life. When asked by reporters why he chose to go on the expedition he was quoted as saying, “I had to go. It was my last chance to be a boy.”

The final blow to his health came from grieving the death of his youngest son Quentin, who was killed fighting in France during World War I.

When Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919, his son Archie informed his siblings with the telegraphed message, “The old lion is dead.”

Today, the River of Doubt is known as Rio Roosevelt. One branch of the river is called Rio Kermit, in tribute to Roosevelt’s son, who saved his father in the jungle. Kermit Roosevelt, who battled depression and alcoholism, was ultimately unable to save himself. In 1943, he died in Alaska from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.