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The Billionaires Who Died In 2021

Published 3 months ago
By Forbes

From a gambling tycoon with a global empire to a member of the storied Rothschild banking family, a total of 27 billionaires passed away this year, leaving behind legacies of entrepreneurship—and billions of dollars. That’s out of a total of 2,755 billionaires Forbes found for our 2021 list of the World’s Billionaires, published in April 2021.

Most were older than 80, including GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and U.K. tycoon Sir David Barclay. Two died in helicopter accidents: France’s Olivier Dassault and the Czech Republic’s Petr Kellner. The youngest was Chinese billionaire Hui Zuo, who founded U.S.-listed real estate brokerage KE Holdings, and died at age 50 after an “unexpected worsening of illness.”

Here are the billionaires who died in 2021, in alphabetical order by last name:

Sheldon Adelson

Citizenship: U.S..

Net worth at death: $35 billion

Died: January 2021 at age 87

Republican kingmaker and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson built a gambling empire with high-end casinos and resorts in Las Vegas, Singapore and Macao, amassing an estimated $35 billion fortune that made him the 19th richest person in the world at the time of his death.

Adelson wielded his fortune as a Republican mega-donor and power broker, pouring millions into supporting New Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and other Republican candidates. During his lifetime, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave more than $500 million to conservative campaigns and causes. 

Miriam now owns her late-husband’s nearly 50% stake in the Las Vegas Sands. In March 2021, two months after Adelson died, the company agreed to sell its assets on The Strip, including the Venetian Resort and the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, for $6.25 billion in a bid to focus on the Asia market. 

Read the full obituary here.

Carlos Ardila Lülle

Citizenship: Colombia

Net worth at death: $2.3 billion

Died: August 2021 at age 91

Ardila Lülle had a vast business empire that included soda bottling companies, radio and TV stations and sugar refineries in Colombia. He  got his start at his father-in-law’s soda company, where he created a top-selling apple-flavored drink. He also owned Colombian soccer team Atletico Nacional.

Sir David Barclay

Citizenship: U.K.

Net worth at death: $3.7 billion

Died: January 2021 at age 86

British billionaire Sir David Barclay and his twin brother, Sir Frederick, were among the richest people in the U.K. Yet the family is notoriously secretive,  going as far as buying a private island off the coast of France and building a gothic-style castle there as their family compound. David died from a “short illness,” his newspaper the Daily Telegraph announced.

Together, the  twin brothers built a $4 billion empire that included hotels and other media assets, such as the Telegraph, British magazine The Spectator, online retailer Very Group and London’s Ritz Hotel. Some cracks in the family partnership began to form in the months leading up to David’s death. In 2020, Frederick sued his nephews for allegedly bugging the Ritz hotel to record his private conversations, thrusting the press-shy family into the public eye. After David’s death, both sides came to a settlement in the lawsuit earlier this year, the Financial Timesreported.

“It was a great journey in everything that we did, the good, the bad, the ugly…we experienced it from being bombed out of our beds in Coventry to the deals that we made and the ones that got away. We were twins from the beginning until the end,” Frederick said in a statement after his brother David died.

Read the full obituary here.

Carol Jenkins Barnett

Citizenship: U.S.

Net worth at death: $2.1 billion

Died: December 2021 at age 65

Carol Jenkins Barnett, one of the seven children of Publix Super Markets founder George Jenkins, died earlier this month after she was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. Up until her diagnosis, Barnett was a board member at Publix and president of the supermarket chain’s charitable arm. 

“In addition to her service at Publix, Carol Jenkins Barnett made significant contributions to many nonprofit organizations and for the betterment of all children with investments in early childhood education programs,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said in a statement. Barnett and her husband made large donations to Florida Southern College, where they attended, and the Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center.

Read the full obituary here.

Stephen Bechtel Jr.

Citizenship: U.S.

Net worth at death: $1.9 billion

Died: March 2021 at age 95

From 1960 to 1990, Bechtel ran his family’s construction and engineering firm, which was founded by Stephen’s grandfather, Warren Bechtel. Stephen’s grandson, Brendan Bechtel, is currently CEO and chairman. “In every aspect of his life, he was driven by his strong values and a vision for helping to build a better world, which continue to guide us in partnering with customers today,” Brendan said.

Eli Broad

Citizenship: U.S.

Net worth at death: $6.9 billion

Died: May 2021 at age 87

Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad amassed his fortune in the home-building and insurance industries. He cofounded Kaufman & Broad in 1957, which went on to become one of the nation’s biggest home builders with affordable tract homes. After that, he bought Sun Life Insurance and sold it to AIG for $18 billion in stock in 1998. Broad died after a long illness.

He started two foundations with his fortune, the Broad Art Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which have doled out $4 billion in grants supporting medical research, public education and the arts. Broad was a prominent philanthropist in his hometown of Los Angeles, where he and his wife, Edythe, saved the Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art during the financial crisis in 2008 with a $30 million grant, helped finance the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and opened The Broad museum, which showcases their personal contemporary art collection. 

Read the full obituary here.

Peter Buck

Citizenship: U.S.

Net worth at death: $1.7 billion

Died: November 2021 at age 90

Buck was a nuclear physicist, but that’s not how he made his fortune. In 1965, he loaned his friend’s son, Fred DeLuca, $1,000 to start a sandwich shop in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The investment paid off: The shop eventually became Subway, one the largest food chains in the world. A year after his initial investment, Buck and DeLuca cofounded Doctor’s Associates Inc., Subway’s parent company.

Subway CEO John Chidsey said in a statement that the cofounder was “a shining example of a dedicated, hands-on leader and an integral member of the Subway family.”

Read the full Forbes obituary here.

Chuck Bundrant

Citizenship: U.S.

Net worth at death: $1.3 billion

Died: October 2021 at age 79

The fishing tycoon founded Trident Seafoods, the largest vertically integrated seafood company in North America, in 1972. Burdant is known for turning around the reputation of pollack—conventionally seen as a trash fish—and minting massive supply deals for it at chains like Long John Silver’s and McDonald’s.

Olivier Dassault

Citizenship: France

Net worth at death: $4.7 billion

Died: March 2021 at age 69

Olivier Dassault was an heir to the Dassault aerospace fortune and a center-right French politician. His grandfather started Dassault Aviation, which began making propellers in World War I. Olivier died in a helicopter accident in northern France, where he had a vacation house.

Ennio Doris

Citizenship: Italy

Net worth at death: $3.4 billion

Died: November 2021 at age 81

Doris was the former chairman of Italian bank Banca Mediolanum, which he cofounded with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. He was featured in the company’s ad campaigns and his son, Massimo Doris, became CEO of the bank in 2008.

Read the full Forbes obituary here.

Majid Al Futtaim

Citizenship: U.A.E.

Net worth at death: $4.3 billion 

Died: December 17, 2021

One of the world’s richest Arabs, Al Futtaim oversaw an empire of malls, hotels and supermarkets. He founded the retail and entertainment giant Majid Al Futtaim Holding in 1992; It owns 29 malls–including the Mall of the Emirates, known for its indoor ski resort–plus 13 hotels and 375 hypermarkets across 30 countries. 

Read the full Forbes obituaryhere.

Valentin Gapontsev

Citizenship: U.S. and Russia

Net worth at death: $2.8 billion

Died: October 2021 at age 82

Gapontsev was the founder of Oxford, Massachusetts-based fiber-optic laser-maker IPG Photonics. Born in the Soviet Union, Gapontsev got his PhD from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and held more than 100 patents. He is credited with making fiber lasers, which can cut through a variety of materials, cost-effective and reliable for use by industrial manufacturers around the world.

B. Wayne Hughes

Citizenship: U.S.

Net worth at death: $3.3 billion

Died: August 2021 at age 87

Hughes made his fortune helping Americans store their extra stuff. He founded self-storage giant Public Storage in 1972. He stepped down as chairman in 2011 and formed American Homes 4 Rent, a publicly-traded REIT that owns and rents out nearly 53,000 single-family homes across 22 states. He owned Spendthrift Farm, one of the world’s most storied thoroughbred horse farms.

Petr Kellner

Citizenship: Czech Republic

Net worth at death: $17.5 billion

Died: March 2021 at age 56

Petr Kellner founded investment fund PFF Group, which bought a controlling stake in the biggest Czech insurer during its privatization and helped Kellner become the richest person in the Czech Republic. He died in a helicopter accident in Alaska while on a heliskiing trip, which means he was using a helicopter to reach spots outside established ski trails.

Lee Man Tat

Citizenship: Hong Kong

Net worth at death: $17.4 billion

Died: July 2021 at age 91

Lee was chairman of LKK Group, which owns Lee Kum Kee, the world’s largest maker of oyster sauce. Its largest factory is located in Guangdong Province, the family’s ancestral home.

Juan Lopez-Belmonte Lopez

Citizenship: Spain

Net worth at death: $1.8 billion

Died: July 2021

Lopez-Belmonte was chairman of Madrid-based biotech firm Laboratorios Farmaceuticos Rovi. Last year, the company partnered with U.S. pharmaceutical firm Moderna to package and manufacture its Covid-19 vaccine. He and his three sons, one of whom serves as CEO, owned 60% of the public company at the time of his death.

John Martin

Citizenship: U.S.

Net worth at death: $1.1 billion

Died: March 2021 at age 69

Martin was CEO of pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences from 1996 to -2016. Martin had a PhD in organic chemistry and, while CEO, he led the development of groundbreaking single-pill treatments for HIV and Hepatitis C.

M.G. George Muthoot

Citizenship: India

Net worth at death: $3.1 billion

Died: March 2021 at age 71

Muthroot ran Muthoot Finance, India’s leading lender against gold, with his three brothers. The firm was founded by their grandfather in 1887 as a trader in timber and food grains, supplying rations to large British-run plantations

Mahendra Prasad

Citizenship: India

Net worth at death: $2 billion

Died: December 2021 at age 81

Mahendra Prasad founded Indian generics maker Aristo Pharmaceuticals. He was known as “King Mahendra” and served in India’s parliament.

Benjamin de Rothschild

Citizenship: Switzerland

Net worth at death: $1.4 billion

Died: January 2021 at age 57

Benjamin de Rothschild belonged to one of the most famous banking families in Europe. He was a direct descendant of James de Rothschild, one of five brothers who were sent by their father, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, to expand the family’s banking business across Europe in the 1800s. Benjamin inherited a branch of the family bank, Edmond de Rothschild group, which was founded in 1953 and is focused on wealth management. Benjamin died after suffering a heart attack. 

Edmond de Rothschild Holding SA said Benjamin was a “visionary entrepreneur, passionate about finance, speed, sailing and automobiles.”

Read the full obituary here.

Onsi Sawiris

Citizenship: Egypt

Net worth at death: $1.1 billion

Died: June 2021 at age 90

Sawiris was the patriarch of Egypt’s wealthiest family. In 1950, he founded Orascom Construction, which was nationalized 10 years later. Two of his sons, Nassef and Naguib, are billionaires.

Walter Scott Jr.

Citizenship: U.S.

Net worth at death: $4.2 billion

Died: September 2021 at age 90

Scott was a longtime friend of famed investor Warren Buffett. He sat on the board of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and owned—along with his family—about a 6% stake in the firm. Scott started his career as CEO of construction company Peter Kiewit and later partnered with Buffett to buy utility MidAmerican Energy, which was later renamed Berkshire Hathaway Energy, for $2 billion in 2000

“You cannot find a better model for a citizen than Walter Scott,” Warren Buffett told the Omaha World-Herald in an interview after Scott’s death. “He was basically a builder, whether he was building Kiewit and physical things or building his vision of Omaha or Nebraska. He was nonstop.”

Tang Shing-bor

Citizenship: Hong Kong

Net worth at death: $4.7 billion

Died: May 2021 at age 88

Known as the “Shop King,” Tang was amassed a portfolio of hundreds of retail shops in Hong Kong before the turn of the century. He also had investments in industrial buildings, shopping malls and hotels, taking advantage of government policies meant to develop Hong Kong’s industrial areas.

Heinz Hermann Thiele

Citizenship: Germany

Net worth at death: $12.9 billion

Died: February 2021 at age 79

Thiele controlled Germany brake manufacturer Knorr-Bremse AG. After working his way up through the legal department in the 1960s and 1970s, Thiele took over the company in the 1980s. He stepped down in 2007 and was named an honorary chairman. At the time of his death, Thiele also owned 50% of railroad equipment maker Vossloh and 12.4% of German flagship airline Lufthansa.

Abhay Vakil

Citizenship: India

Net worth at death: $6.25 billion

Died: November 2021 at age 71

Vakil served as a non-executive director of Asian Paints, one of the largest paint companies in India. The firm was cofounded by his father in 1942. 

W. Galen Weston

Citizenship: Canada 

Net worth at death: $7 billion

Died: April 2021 at age 80

Weston was heir to the Canadian food and real estate empire started by his grandfather, George Weston. He was best known for turning around Canada’s Loblaws supermarket chain in the 1970s and making it the largest food retailer in the country.

Zuo Hui

Citizenship: China

Net worth at death: $15.5 billion

Died: May 2021 at age 50

Zuo founded and ran real estate brokerage firm KE Holdings, which he took public in the U.S. in August 2020. He pioneered modern brokerage services in China in 2000, just after the country introduced reforms encouraging individual ownership of private property ownership. Zuo died “due to unexpected worsening of illness,” according to KE Holdings.

By Rachel Sandler, Forbes Staff

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