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Thomas H Lee, Famed Collector of Photography, Dies At 78

Update: A previous version of this article mistakenly attributed the cause of death as ‘natural’. We apologize for this grievous error.

Thomas H Lee, businessman and art collector, died due to suicide at the age of 78 on Thursday. His cause of death was confirmed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Over his long career, Thomas H Lee was primarily known for his private equity and business acquisitions. Perhaps his most iconic deal was in 1992 when he acquired Snapple, a popular beverage brand, for just $135 million. He made the company public within 8 months, and just 2 years later in 1994, he sold it for $1.7 billion to Quaker Oats. The deal was highly controversial at the time, one of the reasons being the huge $900 million profit Lee made for himself and his investors.

After working individually for about a decade, Lee founded Thomas H Lee Partners in Boston in 1974. In 2004, Thomas H. Lee was involved in the highly-publicized $2.6 billion acquisition of Warner Music. Over the course of its existence, Thomas H. Lee Partners has invested in more than 160 companies. In 2006, Lee separated from the company and later found another firm, Lee Equity.

Thomas H Lee was also known as an iconic art collector and patron. He and his wife Ann G. Tenenbaum were considered one of the top art collectors in the world. He credited some of it to his parents, both of whom were also art collectors. The couple was known for one of the most extensive private collections of photography in the world. The vast collection was the subject of the exhibition “Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection”, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2020.

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The family’s spokesperson released the following statement after his death: “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 put others’ needs before his own. Our hearts are broken. We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.”