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Billionaire landowner the Duke of Westminster dies at 64

Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the sixth Duke of Westminster — a friend of Britain's royal family and one of the country's wealthiest landowners — has died, his family said Tuesday. He was 64.

The Grosvenor Estate said the duke died at the Royal Preston Hospital in northwest England after suddenly becoming ill at his vast Abbeystead Estate nearby.

The duke's Grosvenor Estate owns 300 acres (121 hectares) in some of London's wealthiest areas.

His ancestor, Sir Thomas Grosvenor, married heiress Mary Davies and acquired what was then marshland in 1677. Over the generations the family developed the land into two of London's most affluent neighborhoods, Mayfair and Belgravia.

The family's property portfolio includes land across Britain, as well as housing, office and retail space around the world.

Colin McPherson | Contributor

The 2016 Sunday Times Rich List estimated the duke's wealth at 9.35 billion pounds ($12 billion).

Cavendish inherited his title, and the family business, when his father died in 1979. In the late 1990s he had a nervous breakdown, later citing the pressures of business and public appearances.

"Given the choice, I would rather not have been born wealthy, but I never think of giving it up," he told The Independent newspaper in 1992.

He and his aristocratic family are closely tied to British royalty. The duke's son and heir, Hugh Grosvenor, is a godfather to Prince George, son of Prince William and his wife Catherine.

Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II was sending a message of condolence to the duke's family. Prince Charles' office said he and his wife Camilla were "deeply shocked and greatly saddened" by his death.

The duke's estate said the family had asked "for privacy and understanding at this very difficult time."

It said "no further comment will be made for the time being but further information will follow in due course."