History 15 Gross and Shocking Facts About Howard Hughes's Many Obsessions  

Phil Gibbons
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The life of Howard Hughes had two sides. On one hand, facts about Howard Hughes include his brilliantly inventive mind and engineering skills, his aviation speed records, his celebrity as a high-profile Hollywood producer, and his creation of numerous bedrock American brands that made him one of America's first billionaires. But any discussion of Hughes would also have to include information about his obsessive-compulsive disorder, his irrational fears, his reclusiveness and paranoia.  Hughes lived the American Dream and yet died one of the unhappiest creatures on the planet. Here are some troubling facts about the sad, strange life of Howard Hughes.    

Howard Hughes Was So Phobic of Germs, He Covered His Bare Feet with Kleenex Boxes

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Photo: Public Domain/via Wikimedia

Howard Hughes had a psychological autopsy performed after his death, an attempt to determine his sanity in the face of numerous claims against his estate. Hughes died without a will, and the estate's attorneys wished to have a legal record of his state of mind in his final years.

Hughes was isolated and had no friends as a child. His mother constantly monitored his health, terrified that he would come down with polio. Hughes did experience a brief period of paralysis as an adolescent, but this condition (which had no medical basis) simply disappeared after a few months. 

Today, Hughes would have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Unfortunately, as an adult, his obsession with being exposed to germs from other people intensified. He would insist that any individual coming into even casual contact with him would cover their hands with tissues or paper towels, especially when serving him food. His employees also needed to consult manuals to understand the proper procedure for such minor processes as serving him canned peaches: the label would have to be removed, the exterior of the can scrubbed down to the bare metal, then the can washed thoroughly again before the peaches were poured out without touching the bowl.

Late in life, Hughes would walk around with Kleenex boxes on his feet - he called this "insulation" from germs.

Howard Hughes Demanded His Employees Store His Urine in Containers

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Photo: Acme Newspictures/via Wikimedia

Many of Hughes's obsessions were quirky and strange, but nothing was more bizarre and disgusting than his fixation on his own urine. At times, his employees describe him as being remarkably reckless with his aim around the toilet, leaving large puddles for them to clean up after his visits to the bathroom. Later in life, he would urinate into a container and demand that it be capped and stored with other bottles containing similiar specimens. There were closets filled with such containers. While some accounts discuss this as behavior that only occurred in his final, deeply neurotic years, other accounts mention Hughes storing his urine in Mason jars much earlier, when he lived in the Beverly Hills Hotel. This behavior can be another symptom of OCD.  

Hughes Was Obsessed with His Wife Even Though He Only Saw Her a Few Days a Year

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Photo: Public Domain/via Wikimedia

Despite his avid interest in women, Howard Hughes was only married twice, both times relatively briefly. His first wife, Ella, left Hughes in 1929 after only four years of marriage. In 1957, Hughes married actress Jean Peters. Their marriage became increasingly bizarre but still lasted for fourteen years. 

Although Jean Peters never spoke publicly about her relationship with Hughes, some strange information eventually emerged. Even early on, when Hughes and Peters still occupied the same bedroom, she placed tissues between his toenails, which he refused to cut, so that their clicking on the floor would not wake her. She was forbidden to touch the television knob to change the channel; they also had different refrigerators lest she infect Howard with her germs. Eventually, they would only meet for twenty minutes a day. By the last ten years of the marriage, they saw one another only a few days a year. They spent part of their marriage living in separate bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel, communicating by telephone and memo, 100,000 pages in all. These memos directed everything from what time she would wake up down to the contents of her breakfast tray.

Even during the marriage, Hughes's security guards would follow her wherever she went and report her whereabouts to Hughes. This continued after their divorce, when Hughes bought adjacent homes and still had her watched. When Hughes died, Peters maintained her silence about the specifics but did say this:

I eventually realized that he was a sociopath, a man utterly incapable of understanding the needs of another person. He was very manipulative, even though he was just darling and charming at the same time. And even though he was affectionate in some ways and totally persuasive, it was a charade, I guess.  

His final message telling her that he had always loved her was delivered by one of his employees - picking up the phone was probably too dangerously unsanitary.   

Hughes Stayed in a Screening Room for 4 Months, Binge-Watching Movies

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There have been attempts to explain Hughes's strange personal habits as something that manifested itself late in life when he was overcome by addiction, and physical and mental illness. However, an incident in the late 1940s indicates that Hughes was already in the throes of some serious mental issues way before he disappeared entirely from public life.

Hughes really enjoyed watching films; in fact, he so enjoyed this practice that he literally moved into a projection room he leased at Goldwyn Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard and began a marathon movie-watching session that lasted for four months. He would recline on a chair in the dark, naked except for a small towel that covered his private parts. Subsisting on milk, chocolate bars, and pecans, Hughes would not even stop his viewing for bathroom breaks. He would urinate in containers and hand these off to an assistant, who would be summoned to handle this or any other requests.  

Finally, after four months, Hughes returned to the outside world.  No word on what happened to this particular batch of urine.