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The Many Suites of the Late Rich Recluse Howard Hughes

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Photos: Sunset Tower Hotel Inset: Hughes in happier times, by Slim Aarons

Remembered as the recluse he became later in life, the billionaire heir Howard Hughes had a penchant for hotel living long before he became a shut-in with unkempt hair, claw-like fingernails, and a habit for urinating in glass jars. In the early 1940s, Hughes was spinning his family's Texas-based oil fortune into a career for himself as a powerful Hollywood producer. During that time, the playboy took up residence in the penthouse of the Sunset Tower Hotel, an Art Deco landmark on the Sunset Strip. Hughes and his entourage occupied the entire top floor—now split into two penthouses—and the 14th floor as well. The fortunes of the Leland A. Bryant-designed hotel dwindled along with Hughes', but in 2004, hotelier Jeff Klein bought the place, poured millions into a Paul Fortune-designed renovation, and set about restoring its "old Hollywood" glamour. The "Penthouse Suites" (pictured above) boast 1,000-square-feet of space apiece, and each with an additional 1,000-square-foot private roof deck.

Photos: Eden Rock Hotel

? In addition to his status as billionaire heir and Hollywood producer, Hughes had a distinct interest in aviation, one that brought about a friendship with French aviator Rémy de Haenen. The first man to land a plane on the treacherous stretch of grass that would later become the airport on the Caribbean island of St. Barth's, de Haenen established one of the first resort hotels on the island. Now world famous, the Eden Rock Hotel was visited by Hughes and today the hotel's premier suite is named after him. Stretching over 1,500 square feet on the hotel's top floor, the Howard Hughes Loft Suite includes a king bed, aviation memorabilia, a screening room, and breathtaking views of the Baie de Saint Jean.

? The daredevil lifestyle of an experimental aviator would catch up with Hughes in 1946, when a test flight over L.A. ended in a near-fatal crash in Beverly Hills. That incident was the beginning of the end for Hughes' life in the public eye. For four months, he holed up in a screening room, never leaving, just blankly watching movies, subsisting on a supply of chocolate bars, chicken, and milk, and disposing of his bodily wastes in household containers. That eventually gave way to a lengthy stay in the private Bungalow 4 at the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel. (He left his Cadillac parked out front and unused for so long that the tires went flat and plants began to grow inside.) Hughes eventually left Hollywood behind for good, decamping to a penthouse at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. As the story goes, Hughes arrived on a private train in the middle of the night on Thanksgiving 1966 and was ushered inside the hotel's penthouse. He stayed inside for months and when the hotel requested he vacate to accommodate incoming high rollers for New Year's Eve, Hughes refused, and decided to buy the hotel instead. That purchase would bring about a massive Vegas buying spree that included the Silver Slipper casino (which Hughes bought solely so he could move that resort's giant neon slipper) and Rat Pack favorite The Sands.

? For a recluse, Hughes certainly seemed interested in following the fashion of the day, because in 1972, he picked up and left Vegas (again, in the middle of the night), bound for Nicaragua and, eventually, the Grand Bahama resort of Xanadu Beach Resort & Marina. Now a downtrodden relic, the 20-acre resort was once a jet-set paradise frequented by Rat Pack stars like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and fellow A-listers Cary Grant and Lucille Ball. Once again, Hughes took up residence in the penthouse of the hotel, which he owned and where he lived for four years. After his death, the hotel was sold, but his fabled penthouse remained locked for more than 30 years. Over the intervening decades Xanadu lost its Hollywood cache and, with a planned expansion only partially complete, it is currently listed for $50M.

? On February 10th, 1976, Hughes departed the Bahamas for the Acapulco Princess Hotel in Acapulco, Mexico. Unconfirmed reports say that Hughes was in search of a readily available supply of codeine and other narcotic pain medications, which he used (and perhaps abused) daily to counter the pain of injuries sustained in that fateful plane crash. While the drugs were there when Hughes arrived, the foreign food and finicky air conditioning system further exacerbated the eccentric's already heightened anxiety. He stopped eating and by the time he was loaded onto a plane for Houston that April, Hughes weighed just 93 pounds. He passed away on that final flight.

· Sunset Revival [NYT]
· Howard Hughes Loft Suite [Eden Rock Hotel]
· Howard Hughes: A Revolutionary Recluse [Las Vegas Sun]
· Xanadu Beach Hotel [official site]
· Howard Hughes for a Day [Sun Sentinel]
· Star Spotting [NYT]
· Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness [Google Books]