HOUSTON -- Reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, 70 died Monday en route to Houston from Acapulco, Methodist Hospital officials announced.
"Today at 1:27 p.m. en route from Acapulco to Houston Mr. Howard Hughes expired," a statement from the hospital said. "Mr. Hughes was en route to Houston to the Methodist Hospital for medical treatment."
The hospital would release no information other than Hughes' body remained in Houston, his birthplace.
Hospital officials referred inquiries on the death to West Coast representatives of the Summa Corp., a part of Hughes' empire.
Larry Mathis, vice president of the hospital, said the facility had received no instructions as to disposition of the corpse, which was under guard in the hospital's pathology lab.
The hospital did not disclose the reason for Hughes' need for medical treatment and the status of the health of the recluse has been unknown for years. Methodist, however, is the home hospital of famed heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey.
"He (Hughes) was accompanied by two physicians and one administrative person." Mathis said. "According to the physicians on board the plane, he expired at approximately 1:27 p.m. CST while they were in the air. We have no idea what the cause of death was."
Sources at the hospital said the staff was alerted shortly after 9 a. m. that an important patient, "J.T. Conover," would be arriving and within hours the building was being patrolled by numerous plainclothes security guards.
Personnel were told to give the arrival "special handling" and a recovery room or the third floor of the Fondrcn-Browr. Building where DeBakey works was cleared and sealed off.
Hospital officials have released no additional information.
Hughes inherited millions but he built them into billions until he became one of the half dozen richest men in the world. Then he retreated into such seclusion that for the last years of his life people argued that he had died years ago.
Hughes' obsession with privacy and secrecy in his personal life as such that only his closest aides saw him in his last years. He lived in heavily guarded hotel suites in Las Vegas. London. Vancouver. Nicaragua and the Bahamas.
In 1965 a respected business magazine estimated Hughes' wealth at between $1 billion and $1.4 billion, probably making him the richest of all Americans.
During his career, Hughes once owned or held controlling interest in Trans World Airlines, the biggest brewery in Texas, the RKO film studio and the Hughes Aircraft Co.
In 1972 Hughes emerged from a 15-year cocoon of silence to hold a telephone news conference with UP1 and others to disclaim the authenticity of an alleged autobiography by Clifford Irving.
Hughes was born in Houston. Tex.. Dec. 24, 1905. the only child of Howard Robard Hughes Sr. and Allenc Gano Hughes. His mother's family belonged to the Texas social aristocracy. His father invented a revolutionary oil drill bit and founded Hughes Tool Co. to manufacture the bit.