Colorful oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens dies at age 91

Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who gave millions to education and medical research during a bigger-than-life career, died at age 91.

Pickens' spokesman Jay Rosser confirmed the death Wednesday. Pickens suffered a series of strokes in 2017 and was hospitalized that July after what he called a "Texas-sized fall." After his fall, Pickens wrote on LinkedIn that he was mentally strong, but "I clearly am in the fourth quarter."

Former President George W. Bush praised Pickens for being "bold, imaginative and daring.''

“He was successful, and more importantly, he generously shared his success with institutions and communities across Texas and Oklahoma,” Bush said in a statement.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called Pickens "a passionate man who always stood by his principles on his path to success."

 Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Pickens "lived a life marked with kindness and generosity."

Born in Holdenville, Okla., in 1928, Pickens earned a degree in geology and followed his father, T. Boone Pickens Sr., into a job at Phillips Petroleum.

T. Boone Pickens was hospitalized after a

He quickly soured on the company, borrowed some money and started his own business, Petroleum Exploration, with two partners. That begat Mesa Petrolum, an oil and gas company in Amarillo that Pickens took public in 1964.

In a series of ups and downs, Pickens lost control of debt-ridden Mesa, moving on in 1996 to found BP Capital Management, a billion-dollar hedge fund focused on energy commodities and equities that delivered mammoth gains. 

In 2007, Forbes magazine estimated Pickens' net worth at $3 billion.

Though he eschewed the term "corporate raider," he was a regular player, making a series of losing but profitable takeover runs at Gulf Oil, Unocal and Diamond Shamrock.

In 1986, Boone, whose tactics rankled CEOs, founded the not-for-profit United Shareholders Association, which declared war on big business management and what he viewed as managerial abuses.

"The one thing I want to get out into the open is that stockholders are owners and management are employees," Pickens said in announcing the association.

Like many high-flying risk takers, Pickens moved up and down the wealth scale over the years, sliding below $1 billion. In 2016, Forbes pegged his worth at $500 million.

Pickens was a big donor, giving enormous sums to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University.

His foundation gave $50 million each to the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Pickens joined billionaire investor Warren Buffet and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in signing a "giving pledge" to donate a majority of his wealth to charity.

"I firmly believe one of the reasons I was put on this Earth was to make money and be generous with it," he said on his website.

A frequent guests on TV programs such as CNBC's "Squawk Box" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Pickens sprinkled his conversation with pithy insights into life and work and human relations.

Among favorite "Boone-isms," according to The Dallas Morning News:

  • “Don’t fall victim to what I call the ‘ready-aim-aim-aim-aim’ syndrome. You must be willing to fire.”
  • "Show up early. Work hard. Stay late. Work eight hours and sleep eight hours, and make sure they are not the same eight hours."
  • "My mother once told me, 'Son, you talk too much. You should listen more. You don't even know who the enemy is.' "
  • "Play by the rules. It's no fun if you cheat."

Contributing: John Moritz in Austin, The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: T. Boone Pickens: Colorful oil tycoon dies at 91