H. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who became a seemingly perennial third-party presidential candidate of the 1990s, died this morning after a five-month struggle with leukemia. He was 89.
“In business and in life, Ross was a man of integrity and action,” said James Fuller, a representative for the Perot family, in a statement to the press. “A true American patriot and a man of rare vision, principle and deep compassion, he touched the lives of countless people through his unwavering support of the military and veterans and through his charitable endeavors.”
Perot ran for president in 1992 and 1996, and became something of a pop culture phenomenon for his quirky self-funded TV campaign infomercials, parodied on Saturday Night Live and late night talk shows. Though his Texas twang, frequent use of charts and catchphrase “It’s just that simple” made him an easy punchline for comedians like SNL‘s Dana Carvey, Perot’s impact, particularly in the ’92 election, was serious indeed as he garnered more votes than any third-party candidate in decades.
Having built a personal fortune in computer services, the Texarkana native became a national figure in the late 1960s through attempts to deliver supplies to American POWs in North Vietnam. A decade later, he funded a commando raid in Iran that successfully freed two of his employees being held captive.
When he entered the ’92 presidential race, he became one of the most significant election spoilers in years, positioning himself as a no-nonsense, homespun Everyman opposed to deficits and government waste and corruption. According to The New York Times, Perot took 19% of the popular vote, drawing Republican ire for taking numbers from George H.W. Bush and tilting the race toward Bill Clinton. Four years later, running under the Reform Party ticket, his impact was considerably less significant.