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Billionaire and former presidential candidate Ross Perot dies at 89

Key Points
  • Billionaire philanthropist and independent presidential candidate Ross Perot is dead at 89, CNBC has confirmed.
  • Perot, who ran for president in 1992 and 1996, died after a five-month battle with leukemia, a representative for the Perot family said.
  • Perot was an early tech entrepreneur who founded his first company, Electronic Data Systems, in 1962 with $1,000 in savings.
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Billionaire and former presidential candidate Ross Perot dies at 89

Billionaire businessman, philanthropist and independent presidential candidate Ross Perot is dead at 89, CNBC has confirmed.

Perot, who ran for president in 1992 and 1996, died after a five-month battle with leukemia, said James Fuller, a representative for the Perot family.

"In business and in life, Ross was a man of integrity and action. A true American patriot and a man of rare vision, principle and deep compassion, he touched the lives of countless people through his unwavering support of the military and veterans and through his charitable endeavors," Fuller said in a statement.

Perot is survived by his wife, Margot, his five children and 16 grandchildren.

This 1992 file photo shows presidential hopeful H. Ross Perot at a rally in Austin, Texas.
AP

Perot was an early tech entrepreneur. He started his career in sales at IBM, where he excelled. In 1962, he founded his first company, Electronic Data Systems, with just $1,000 in savings. More than two decades later, he launched information technology services provider Perot Systems, which was acquired in 2009 by Dell for $3.9 billion.

As a disruptive third-party candidate for president, Perot ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and protectionism. He won nearly 19% of the vote in the 1992 race — by far the biggest slice of the electorate for a third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party in the 1912 election.

1968: American businessman H. Ross Perot holding a business machine manufactured by his company, Electronic Data Systems, Dallas, Texas.
Shel Hershorn | Getty Images

Perot stood out from the political crowd for his quirks as much as his business credentials and lack of experience in establishment politics. "I don't have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt. I don't have any experience in gridlock government, where nobody takes responsibility for anything and everybody blames everybody else," he said in a 1992 presidential debate. The shifting of U.S. jobs to Mexico created a "giant sucking sound," he famously said during the campaign.

Perot participated in all three presidential debates in that election, and took a nontraditional campaign route by booking lengthy time slots on network television to lay out his political views.

He was "certainly the most influential political force in the late 20th century from outside the regular party system," said Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University.

Lichtman told CNBC he had been tapped to write a biography of Perot, and Lichtman had agreed. But "quirky Ross Perot, just like he pulled out of the presidential race, he pulled out of the biography," Lichtman said.

Perot was a veteran, and followed his service with a lifetime commitment to supporting U.S. veterans, especially during the Vietnam War. He was honored in 2009 by then-Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake for his advocacy efforts.

Presidential candidate Ross Perot speaks during the 1992 Presidential Debates.
Wally McNamee | Corbis Historical | Getty Images

Perot's death led to an outpouring of warmth from figures in the political world.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that Perot was "a true patriot and a steadfast support of our military."

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement to NBC News that "Texas and America have lost a strong patriot" in Perot.

"Ross Perot epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit and the American creed. He gave selflessly of his time and resources to help others in our community, across our country, and around the world. He loved the U.S. military and supported our service members and veterans. Most importantly, he loved his dear wife, children, and grandchildren. Laura and I send our heartfelt condolences to the entire Perot family as they celebrate a full life," Bush said.

Former Vice President Al Gore said that he "always had the utmost respect for Ross Perot, for his patriotism, love of country, and extraordinary commitment to our veterans. I send my deepest condolences to his family and to everyone who loved and admired him."

In his final interview with the Dallas News in 2016, Perot shrugged off a question about his legacy, saying "Aw, I don't worry about that."

His parting words in that interview, however, were well considered: "Texas born. Texas bred. When I die, I'll be Texas dead. Ha!"

He died at his home in Dallas, in the company of his family.

— CNBC's Tucker Higgins contributed to this report.