The stories of Kerry Packer are the stuff of pub chat legend. While he passed away at the relatively early age of 68, the billionaire media tycoon and (formerly) Australia’s most influential man experienced more in a single year of his life than most do over the course of an entire decade. Suffice it to say, having a net worth of $6.5 billion and broadcast rights across the nation tends to help in this regard.
This isn’t an article about overcoming polio, dyslexia, or a cruel and callous father in Sir Frank Packer. This isn’t even an article about his business philosophies, at least not in the strictest sense. And although 90% of the stories you’re about to read involve the spending of his money, this isn’t an article about how Kerry Packer turned his $100 million family estate – inherited upon the death of Sir Frank – into one of the greatest media empires the country has ever known.
Here are some of the most notable billionaire antics witnessed from one Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer AC: high roller, shot caller, and unapologetic baller.
RELATED: The Millionaire Playboy Antics Of Jack Nicholson You Didn’t Know About
Kerry Packer Stories: Billionaire Antics & A Life Well Lived
Just the tip (it’s more than enough)
Outside of the boardroom, a decent portion of the stories you’ll hear about Kerry Packer relate to his first love: gambling. When you wield the level of influence he did back in the day, along with a bank balance which virtually unlocks the world’s doors, ultra-premium thrills are required.
“Betting is like a disease, which is not understood by those who do not have it,” said Packer.
Exploits of this particular brand included:
- Playing £15 million across four different roulette tables only to see it all go down the drain
- Racking up $25 million across seven blackjack tables in the span of 40 minutes
- Grabbing a crystal ashtray and smashing open a locked baccarat table when the pit boss couldn’t find the key
- Retaining a private room at The Ritz in London just for card games; having once ended a single session in said room £19 million poorer
But win or lose, he was always a generous tipper.
Packer was once in such good spirits about winning $20 million that evening, he dropped $1 million on the MGM staff. On two other occasions, he paid the six-figure mortgages of two separate cocktail waitresses – the first simply because he took a liking to her, and the second because he’d accidentally bumped into her, causing a tray of drinks to spill.
The tale which perfectly encapsulates the Kerry Packer spirit, however, was when he pushed $800,000 worth of chips towards a “deserving croupier.” She apparently blushed and explained it couldn’t be pocketed as tips were pooled amongst staff. So Packer called the manager, requested her firing on the threat of frequenting competing establishments, before handing her the chips.
“Now rehire this woman immediately.”
Kerry Packer’s generous tipping wasn’t limited to the casinos, either. After surviving a heart attack that left him clinically dead for seven minutes, he gave his ambulance drivers and every EMS worker who attended to him $1 million each; in addition to donating a king’s ransom to the Ambulance Service of NSW.
“I’ll flip you for it.”
One of the more well-known Kerry Packer stories involves a loudmouth Texan and what might be the most alpha way to tell another bloke he should shut the fuck up.
As confirmed by Mirage Resorts boss Bobby Baldwin, Packer was playing at a table when the Texan in question asked to join. The former clearly wanted to be left alone; the latter didn’t accept rejection in the most gracious manner.
“I’m a big player too. I’m worth $100 million,” said the Texan.
At which point Packer produced a coin from his pocket and said, “I’ll flip you for it.”
Needless to say, old mate tucked his tail between his legs and quietly returned to his table for the rest of the evening.
The £100,000 ham sandwhich
Around the mid-90s, late one night in some English village, Kerry Packer was riding the high of his polo team’s victory. With every intention of treating the fellas to a coupla schoobangers and a hearty feed, they rocked up at a pub. Given the hour, the kitchen was closed and they were turned away in less-than-polite fashion.
At the next hotel over, Packer & Co. received the exact same news. Only this time, the owner was a touch more accommodating.
“There’s some ham out the back and I can make you up some sandwiches,” he said.
Naturally, after a spirited match and the nocturnal trek in search of some grub, Packer and his mates dug in with plenty of enthusiasm. The publican later returned with a bill for £128. Thankful an effort was made, Packer wrote him a cheque for their meals and drinks – with an additional £100,000 as a tip and a hilarious condition.
“Before you bank it, take it to the other pub at the end of the village, and show it to the bloke who wouldn’t give us any grub.”
Creature of habit
A red-hot punt wasn’t Kerry Packer’s sole vice. The bloke also enjoyed a dart every now and then. And by every now and then, I mean he chain-smoked. A close friend who wished to remain anonymous revealed he once paid Las Vegas magician-hypnotist Marshall Sylver some decent money to rid him of this nasty habit.
“He paid $100,000 in advance and Sylver went to The Mirage to hypnotise him,” recounts the anonymous friend.
“It worked. He stopped… for about 45 minutes.”
Ah well. Can’t win ’em all.
Changing the game
As a competition, World Series Cricket may have only existed for two years, but its impact on the nature of modern cricket was – and continues to be – lasting. In fact, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to claim Kerry Packer drastically altered the landscape of both cricket and Aussie sports marketing as we know it today. Plus who can resist that catchy “C’mon Aussie C’mon” chant?
For the uninitiated, essentially, the sport was taken to a whole new level with Packer’s invention of one-day international cricket. Players were forced to adapt to the times and improve their athleticism due to the format’s fast-paced schedule. Players were given the opportunity to become full-time professionals. Money began flowing like never before. And on the televised front, suddenly, eyeballs around the world were glued to screens.
This entry could honestly be its own independent article/several articles. If you’re interested in finding out more, we suggest watching Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War on Netflix, and then work your way through the compendium of written content online.
Beer for all
Sydney Morning Herald reader Kent Mayo recounted how he’d spotted the Packers in an SCG corporate box during a cricket match between Australia and England. It didn’t take much for the Poms in attendance to get mouthy.
“‘Come on, Kerry,’ the Poms shouted up to him,” says Mayo.
“‘You own this game, and we came a long way… shout us a beer, eh?’ “
The big fella stood up with a massive grin on his face, walked up the steps and vanished to the “howls of Pommy disappointment.” Moments later, a barman emerged carrying a massive wicker basket with a blue ribbon in hand, which was lowered over the railing.
It was packed with tinnies on ice. The English spectators erupted in delight.
Everyone performs better with a gun to their head
With something of a reputation as a workplace bully when shit went south, you can imagine Kerry Packer’s management style would be confronting, to say the least. David Evans, General Manager of GTV9 Melbourne from the early 1970s through to the 80s, recalls discussions could get downright, shit-your-pants terrifying.
“There are so many stories… some are funny, and some of them are not so funny,” says Evans.
“Once I recall Gordon French, TCN head of programming and a fairly nervous sort of guy, being summoned. This day, something had pissed Kerry off about the ratings, and he reached into his right-hand drawer and pulled out what I’m sure was a .44 Magnum. But at any rate, was a very large gun.”
“He pointed it at Gordon and said something like, ‘If we don’t see an improvement, son, this is how you’ll end up’ – and clicked the trigger. Of course, the gun was empty, but poor Gordon went as white as a sheet.”
Know your worth
Negotiating your contract could be just as confrontational as cocking up on the job. George Negus recalls meeting with Packer and Nine executive Sam Chisholm at a Sydney pub to discuss his salary. Packer picked up a beer coaster and told Negus to write how much he wanted on one side. Packer made his offer on the other.
“He looked at my figure and said, ‘This bloke’s an idiot… he’s asking for less than I was gonna give,'” says Negus.
“He asked which I wanted, mine or his. But I remembered I was dealing with a gambler, so I said, ‘Yours.’ He tore up the coaster, and said, ‘You’ve got it.'”
“On the way back to the network, Chisholm told me he had, in fact, offered a hell of a lot more than I asked for.”
In 1987, Kerry Packer made a good amount of cash at the expense of disgraced businessman, Alan Bond. The former sold Nine Network to the latter at what was then a record price of $1.05 billion; something he would regret at first, but remedy soon enough.
Three years later, as Bond’s operation was collapsing in on itself, Packer swooped in to repurchase his baby for just $250 million before using some of the profits to acquire a 25% stake in the Foxtel consortium.
“You only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime and I’ve had mine,” the big fella himself famously quipped.
James Packer broke down the true complexities of the deal after his father’s passing in 2006, outlined in detail by Wikipedia:
“Kerry Packer received $800 million in cash, with $250 million left in Bond Media as subordinated debt. As Bond went under, Packer converted the subordinated debt into a 37% stake in Bond Media. About $500 million of debt remained in Bond Media. Packer received $800 million in cash before receiving a free 37% equity stake that put a debt-included value of $500 million on the Nine Network, which by then included Channel Nine in Brisbane.”
What’s the Australian government to a billionaire?
Ever the larrikin, when Kerry Packer was summoned for an inquiry into the print media industry conducted by the Australian government circa 1991, he used it as an opportunity to take his pendulous nutsack out and plop it right on the bench (figuratively speaking, obviously).
When asked to state his full name and the capacity in which he appeared, true to the Packer ethos, he replied, “Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer. I have appeared here reluctantly.”
A little later on, after facing some allegations he had been covertly controlling the content of Fairfax papers – which he could not own due to cross-ownership laws despite his burning desire – giving politicians in attendance the business at every conversational turn without taking a breath, he spoke the following iconic quote into existence when questioned about his company’s tax-minimisation schemes.
“Of course I am minimising my tax. And if anybody in this country doesn’t minimise their tax, they want their heads read. Because as a government, I can tell you you’re not spending it that well that we should be donating extra.”
I did it my way
Never one to stand around idly, when Kerry Packer’s health began failing to a point of no return, he requested that doctors simply let him go. A week prior to shuffling off his mortal coil, he actually told his cardiologist he was “running out of petrol” and wanted to “die with dignity.”
The heart attack he suffered 15 years prior, which left him clinically dead for seven minutes, had already shown him the void of existence. Speaking to 37th Premier of NSW, Nick Grenier, he is reported to have said: “Son, I’ve been to the other side, and let me tell you… there’s nothing there.” Yet Packer didn’t flinch at the abyss. Quite the contrary. Life from that point forward was an act of defiance.
“There’s no one waiting there for you, there’s no one to judge you, so you can do what you bloody well like.”
On December 26 of 2005, he made his exit. And you can guarantee, if it were up to him, there wouldn’t have been any fanfare or pageantry. Just a bloke finally giving it a rest.