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Billionaire Clinton friend found dead in apparent suicide at age 78

By Sarah May
|
February 24, 2023

Billionaire financier Thomas H. Lee, known for rubbing elbows with the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, was found dead in his Manhattan office Thursday of what was described as a self-inflicted gunshot, as The Daily Mail reports.

The passing of the 78-year-old described as “the envy of Wall Street” was confirmed in a statement released by his family.

Suicide blamed for billionaire's death

According to the New York Post, at around 11:10 a.m., police responded to an emergency call placed from 767 Fifth Avenue, where the sixth-floor offices of Thomas H. Lee Capital LLC are located.

It was not long before EMTs pronounced Mr. Lee dead on the scene of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Though the manner in which Lee died was reportedly apparent to first responders, an official cause of death will be determined by the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Without referencing suicide as the reason for Lee's death, family spokesperson Michael Sitrick issued a statement saying, “The family is extremely saddened by Tom'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 puts others' needs before his own.”

Prolific career remembered

As the Mail noted, Lee achieved tremendous success over the years through a series of acquisitions of mid-sized companies he was able to restore to profitability before selling them at massive profits.

During the 1990s, Lee embarked on a number of leveraged buyouts in which his firm was able to realize exponential gains in relatively short periods of time.

One of Lee's crowning achievements was his acquisition and subsequent sale of Snapple, a deal in which he purchased the company for $135 million, invested another $28 million into it, then ultimately selling it for a staggering $1.7 billion back in 1992.

Over the course of his prolific career, Lee reportedly invested over $15 billion spread across hundreds of strategic transactions, also including the acquisition and eventual sale of Warner Music, as CNBC noted.

Well-connected philanthropist

Unsurprisingly, considering his immense wealth, Lee was known to travel in glittering social circles that included high-profile figures in media, politics, and entertainment, as the Mail observed.

Lee was reportedly a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, even offering his East Hampton residence as a refuge for the pair following the former secretary of State's unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid.

Some of Lee's other well-known chums included billionaire businessman Bob Kraft, former New York City Mayor and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, and others – some of whom were said to have been linked to the late Jeffrey Epstein.

Lee also developed a reputation as a generous philanthropist, donating money – as well as time as a director – to organizations such as Harvard University, Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and Brandeis University, according to CNBC.

Friends and family left to mourn

In the statement released in the immediate aftermath of his death, Lee's family said, “Our hearts our broken. We ask that our privacy be respected and that we will be allowed to grieve.”

Those left to remember Lee – worth an estimated $2 billion at the time of his death – include wife Ann Tenenbaum and their three children, as well as two children he had with first wife Barbara Fish Lee, and two grandchildren.

In addition to his family, Lee's lasting legacy may well be defined by the long list of groundbreaking charitable gifts he made over the years, including a 1996 contribution of $22 million to Harvard University, which, at the time, was one of the largest donations ever made by a living alumnus of the school, as the Post noted.

“I've been lucky to make some money,” Lee said with modest understatement, adding, “I'm more than happy to give some of it back.”