Billionaire financier Thomas H. Lee dies of suicide at age 78

Billionaire financier Thomas H. Lee, a pioneer of private equity investing, died on Thursday at age 78, his family said in a statement. 

Lee’s death was ruled as a suicide, with the cause of death a gunshot wound to the head, New York City’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner said in a Friday email to CBS MoneyWatch. 

Lee, whose fortune was pegged at $2 billion by Forbes magazine, in 2006 founded Lee Equity, which said he had invested over $15 billion in capital during his 46 years in finance. The financier may be best known for his purchase and sale of drink maker Snapple, which his firm at the time bought for $135 million in 1992. Two years later, he sold it for $1.7 billion to Quaker Oats Co., banking an extraordinary return on his investment.

In their statement, Lee’s family asked for their privacy to be respected. 

“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 put others’ needs before his own,” they said in the statement. 

A graduate of Harvard, Lee donated $22 million to his alma mater in 1996, marking one of the university’s biggest gifts at the time. Lee had served as trustee at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, NYU Langone Medical Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art, according to Lee Equity. 

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