Contradictory Pictures of du Pont Emerge
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. (AP) _ Museum founder, police benefactor, mentor to young wrestlers, expert marksman.
Extreme eccentric, delusional, drug abuser.
Descriptions of John E. du Pont, heir to the chemical company fortune, run the gamut. But many friends, relatives and acquaintances agree he grew increasingly eccentric after his mother, Jean Liseter Austin du Pont, died in 1988, leaving him alone in a mansion modeled after Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Virginia.
He cut off all contact with relatives and recently started calling himself the ``dalai lama of the United States,″ according to Martha du Pont of Greenville, Del., wife of du Pont’s brother, Henry.
``He withdrew from his family and he surrounded himself with these strangers, moochers, people who have kept him from his family, fed him drugs,″ she said.
``It’s so tragic _ no one could help now and no one could help then,″ she said.
Until 1988, du Pont’s philanthropy outweighed his eccentricities.
As a child, du Pont was fascinated with natural history, and his interest grew as an adult, leading him on expeditions and collection forays. In 1969, he built the Delaware Museum of Natural History in Wilmington, Del., to house his collection and continues to support the operation, according to Mrs. du Pont.
In the next decade, he turned his prowess in marksmanship to use, becoming an honorary member of the Newtown Township Police Department, building an elaborate indoor shooting range and training officers. He also donated bulletproof vests and radios to the force.
``John was a good friend and a good friend to the Police Department,″ said retired Newtown Township Police Chief Stan Short.
``He was active in the community, always willing to help the police.″
Du Pont’s interest in sports began with swimming at a private high school. He continued swimming at the University of Miami and then went to California in hopes of training for the Olympics.
George Haines of the Santa Clara (Calif.) Swim Club converted him to a pentathon competitor: running, riding, shooting, swimming and fencing.
Du Pont failed to make the 1968 Olympic team but made it in 1976 as the team’s manager.
He then financed the $15 million duPont Pavilion, a basketball arena that opened in 1986, at Villanova University about five miles from his mansion. The same year, du Pont started a wrestling program at the school, financing student scholarships, paying the coaching staff and naming himself head coach.
Two years later, Villanova dropped the program when the school and other coaches grew uncomfortable with the lavish way he ran it at his own expense _ flying his players on a Lear jet and allowing some to stay at his estate.
He then turned even closer to home, building the 14,000-square-foot Foxcatcher National Training Center on his 800-acre estate and recruiting Olympic-caliber wrestlers worldwide, some of whom lived year-round on the estate.
Du Pont also contributed about $500,000 a year to USA Wrestling, the governing body that runs the Olympic team.
Du Pont was married for a year in 1983 and 1984 to Gale Wenk. In a lawsuit she filed later, listing du Pont’s worth at $46.2 million, she said he choked her, threatened her with a knife and tried to push her out of his moving car.
Martha du Pont said the family watched with alarm as du Pont grew more and more eccentric.
``It’s so hard to help someone today because of the laws,″ she said. ``You used to be able to go into court and get someone committed but now you can’t.″