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Harold Simmons, Billionaire, Philanthropist, GOP Donor, Dies

Harold Simmons stands by the Dallas courthouse entrance in October 1997. Simmons, the Texas billionaire, philanthropist and GOP donor, died Saturday in Dallas. He was 82.

Harold Simmons, the Texas billionaire, philanthropist and GOP donor, has died. He was 82.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Simmons died late Saturday at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. His wife, Annette Simmons, told the newspaper that Simmons was "very sick for the last two weeks" and was in Baylor's intensive care unit. The family spent Christmas at the hospital, she said.

Here's more:

"Simmons, who was ranked 40th on Forbes' list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, gave hundreds of millions of dollars to diverse causes -- from conservative political campaigns to Planned Parenthood.

"The soft-spoken businessman's circle included political leaders and celebrities. He was friends with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, U2 singer Bono and Oprah Winfrey."

Simmons, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees in economics at the University of Texas, began his career as an investigator for the U.S. Civil Service Commission. But at age 29, he decided to go into business. Here's more from his foundation's website:

"At age 29, Harold became an entrepreneur when he purchased a small drugstore near SMU in Dallas. In 1966, he made his first major acquisition, buying Williams Drug Co. Thirty more drug stores were purchased the next year followed by an $18 million buyout of Ward's Drugstores in 1969. In 1973, Harold sold his stores for $50 million in Eckerd stock.

"Harold then launched a career as an investor by buying major positions in publicly traded companies. After sometimes gaining control, he managed the companies to maximize the value of the investment for shareholders. Known for being a brilliant and creative financier, he now controls numerous companies, including five corporations listed on the New York Stock Exchange."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Simmons a "true Texas giant."

Simmons' friend and fellow Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens said he "was a passionate person -- passionate about his family, his business, philanthropy and politics. ... We should all leave such a rich legacy behind."

Simmons was also one of top political donors in the country.

As NPR's Wade Goodwyn reported last year, Simmons donated more than $20 million to the GOP since 2004. He gave $3 million to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to raise questions about Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam War record during the 2004 presidential race.

In 2008, he gave $3 million to help pay for an ad that linked Barack Obama, then a Democratic U.S. senator seeking the presidency, to the Weathermen, a 1970s-era radical left-wing group.

In the 2012 cycle, he gave money to GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Simmons told The Wall Street Journal in an interview before the 2012 election that "Obama is the most dangerous American alive...because he would eliminate free enterprise in this country."

But, as the Dallas Morning News notes, Simmons' "generosity crossed political and socioeconomic lines." He gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Parkland Memorial Hospital and UT Southwestern Medical Center. He also donated to Planned Parenthood as well as to the Resource Center, a group that supports Dallas' lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Simmons is survived by his wife, Annette Simmons, four daughters from two previous marriages, and two stepchildren.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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