Ross Perot, the eccentric and iconic self-made billionaire and computer industry giant whose two runs for president as an independent candidate shook up American politics, died Tuesday at 89, his family said.
“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,” they added.
The trailblazing Texas tycoon, technology pioneer, and philanthropist died at his Dallas home, after what the Dallas Morning News described as a five-month battle with leukemia.
Perot delivered a shockingly strong performance as an independent in the 1992 presidential race, capturing 19 percent of the vote and siphoning off conservative support, helping seal Democrat Bill Clinton’s victory over incumbent George H.W. Bush.
No other independent or third-party candidate has won such a large slice of the vote since the Democratic and Republican parties began dominating presidential politics in the mid-19th century, and he foretold the impact that strong, focused third-party campaigns could have on a White House race.
His appearance alongside Clinton and Bush on the debate stage sharply boosted his credibility among viewers.
When Bush asked what experience Perot had to run the country, the retort from Perot – who spent $63 million of his own money on the race – was a corker.
“I don’t have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt,” Perot fired back.
“I don’t have any experience in gridlock government where nobody takes responsibility for anything and everybody blames everybody else... but I do have a lot of experience in getting things done.”
Four years later Perot ran again, as leader of the Reform Party. But he did not fare as well, and Clinton was re-elected.
Perot’s first campaign caused a rift between him and the Bush family, but on Tuesday George W. Bush, the 43rd president hailed him as an American icon.
“Texas and America have lost a strong patriot,” Bush said in a statement. “Ross Perot epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit and the American creed.”
Perot was born in Texarkana in 1930, during the Great Depression.
After graduating from the US Naval Academy and spending four years in the military, Perot worked for IBM, selling computers in Texas.
He later founded Electronic Data Systems in the 1960s and became a titan of the US technology industry.