Tony Hsieh’s $50M Utah Spending Spree Was a Wild End to a Wild Life


FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

The multimillionaire former CEO of shoe company Zappos, Tony Hsieh, spent at least $50 million on properties in Park City, Utah, in the months before his bizarre death in a shed fire.

DailyMail.com has details on what it says was one last buying spree. Hsieh, it appears, hoovered up at least seven multimillion-dollar homes, a private club, and a vacant lot in the months before his death. He paid at least $35 million for the properties, using a real-estate company he named Pickled Investments. The transactions were in addition to his previously reported purchase of Crescent Ranch, a 17,350-square-foot mansion on a private lake for $15 million.

He also had plans to buy more property in the town made famous by the Sundance Film Festival, according to one real-estate source who spoke with the DailyMail.com, “He hadn’t finished buying when he died. There were other deals in the works which sadly will never now come off.”

The reports mesh with claims by The Wall Street Journal that Hsieh “had offered to pay friends to move to Park City” while other people close to him said he gave these people “jobs with vague descriptions; some collected salaries while doing little and living in his homes, and encouraged his drug and alcohol abuse.”

Since his death, bizarre stories of Hsieh’s increasingly eccentric, reclusive, and drug-fueled behavior have come to light.

Hsieh, 46, sold Zappos to Amazon in 2009 for more than $1 billion, but stayed on as CEO until August this year. He wrote a bestselling book on his unusual company culture entitled Delivering Happiness, saying that shots of Grey Goose vodka were a company tradition.

“Ultimately happiness is really just about enjoying life,” he wrote in the 2010 book. “When you need to party, you party. When you need to produce, you produce.”

Hsieh, however, went into a dramatic downward spiral in the final six months of his life. On the day before the fire, he was making plans to check into a rehabilitation clinic in Hawaii, the Journal quoted friends as saying.

He apparently became obsessed with candles; Paul Benson, a real-estate agent said he discovered 1,000 candles burning inside the Crescent Ranch mansion when he stopped by. Hsieh was apparently interested in the effects of oxygen deprivation. He died from smoke inhalation after locking himself into a wooden shed at his girlfriend’s house in Connecticut where he was reportedly using a heater to lower the oxygen level. His death has been ruled an accident.

The Journal said Hsieh starved himself of food. His bizarre challenges included trying not to urinate and going on a 26-day alphabetized diet, only eating food beginning with the letter A on the first day, B on the second, and so on.

“The final Z day amounted nearly to fasting,” one friend said. His weight dropped to under 100 pounds.

Hsieh was said to be experimenting with extreme behavior, including sleeping as little as four hours a night. He also attempted daunting physical challenges; he once climbed the three highest peaks in Southern California in a single day.

Friend Scott Roeben told DailyMail.com, “He went down the same rabbit hole as Howard Hughes and truly lost his way.

“His life changed over the years. When he started, his drinking and drug use were perceived as fun and upbeat, but that all changed when he moved to Utah where it got much darker.

“But he had built a cult around him—he paid people to be around him and there was no incentive to tell him to stop because he would put people on time-out and ice them out of his life. So the gravy train would come to an end for anyone who tried to stop him.”

In Las Vegas, where Hsieh moved Zappos headquarters, he invested $350 million into revitalizing the city’s downtown, including the Container Park retail development. Shoppers are welcomed to stores, housed in refurbished containers, by a 40-foot praying mantis that shoots fire. Hsieh brought the beast back from the Burning Man festival.

In Vegas, he lived in an Airstream trailer on a compound with friends. The property was notable for his pet alpaca, Marley, which roamed around the premises.

In a written statement, the Hsieh family said they were “deeply grateful for the outpouring of love and respect shown in the wake of Tony’s passing. It is clear to us he had a profound impact on countless people all over the world.”

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