Billionaire Thomas Lee dies at 78

Billionaire Thomas Lee, who created the idea of a leveraged buyout, died on Thursday at the age of 78, a spokesperson for his family said. 

Michael Sitrick, a family friend, said in a statement that the family is “extremely saddened” by Lee’s death. 

“While the world knew him as one of the pioneers in the private equity business and a successful businessman, we knew him as a devoted husband, father, grandfather, sibling, friend and philanthropist who always put others’ needs before his own,” Sitrick said. “Our hearts are broken. We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.” 

Multiple outlets reported that Lee died by apparent suicide. The Wall Street Journal reported that officials from the New York City Police Department said Lee was found in his Manhattan office with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A spokesperson for the department’s deputy commissioner of public information told The Hill that police responded to a 911 call just past 11 a.m., and emergency medical services officials pronounced an individual dead on the scene. 

The spokesperson said the identification of the individual is still pending, and the chief medical examiner’s office will determine the cause of death. 

The Journal reported that Lee was the first to use leveraged buyouts, which happen when one company is acquired by another using borrowed money to cover the cost of deal. 

He founded his own firm, Thomas H. Lee Partners, in Boston in 1974 and ran it until 2006. He used a leveraged buyout in the 1990s for his firm to acquire and sell Snapple, receiving more than 30 times equity from the sale, the Journal reported. 

Forbes reported that Lee’s net worth stood at $2 billion, placing him just outside the 1,500 wealthiest individuals in the world. 

He made a $22 million donation in 1996 to Harvard University, where he attended college, one of the largest in the school’s history. He also financially supported charities, nonprofit organizations, museums and art organizations, the Journal reported.

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