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

Updated December 8, 2020 956 votes 233 voters 2.3m views15 items

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The life of Howard Hughes had two sides. On one hand, Hughes had a brilliantly inventive mind, made immense contributions to aviation and motion pictures, and built brands that made him one of America's first billionaires. But any discussion of Hughes must also mention his reclusiveness, germ phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hughes lived the American dream, and yet he reportedly died in poor physical condition. Still, he led an intriguing life that spawned numerous accounts of his eccentricities. 

  • 1

    Hughes Was Obsessed With His Wife Even Though He Only Saw Her A Few Days A Year

    Photo: Viva Zapata! / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Despite his apparent interest in women, Howard Hughes only officially married twice. His first wife, Ella, left Hughes in 1929 after four years of marriage. In 1957, Hughes married actress Jean Peters. Strange rumors persist to this day about their 14-year marriage. 

    Although Peters never spoke publicly about her relationship with Hughes, some strange stories eventually emerged. Even early on, when Hughes and Peters still occupied the same bedroom, she reportedly placed tissues between his toenails, which he refused to cut, so that their clicking would not wake her. Some even claim Hughes wouldn't let her shop, smoke, or vacuum

    Eventually, they reportedly only met for 20 minutes each day; by the last 10 years of the marriage, they saw one another only a few days a year. They spent part of their marriage living in separate Beverly Hills Hotel bungalows, communicating via telephone and memos that totaled 100,000 pages. 

    Hughes reportedly hired people to follow her wherever she went and report on her whereabouts. This may have continued after their divorce, when Hughes bought homes adjacent to hers. 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.  

    Before he died, Hughes sent Peters a final message telling her that he had always loved her - but it was delivered by one of his employees. 

    Shocking fact?
  • 2

    Hughes Stayed In A Screening Room For 4 Months, Binge-Watching Movies

    Photo: The Aviator / Warner Bros.

    Some believe many of Hughes's unusual personal habits manifested late in life, when he was overcome by addiction to codeine and physical and mental illness. However, an incident in the late 1940s suggested Hughes may have faced challenges long before he disappeared entirely from public life.

    Hughes really enjoyed watching films; in fact, he so enjoyed this practice that he reportedly 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, sometimes naked, subsisting on milk, chocolate bars, and pecans. Hughes did not even stop for bathroom breaks, allegedly urinating into containers and bottles.

    Shocking fact?
  • 3

    Howard Hughes Demanded His Employees Store His Urine In Containers

    Photo: Acme Newspictures / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Many of Hughes's habits were unusual, but few stand out more than his alleged fixation on his own urine. In Howard Hughes: A Secret Life, Charles Higham describes the billionaire as being remarkably reckless with his aim around the toilet. Despite that, Hughes also reportedly urinated in jars, which he then kept. This practice was dramatized in the 2005 film The Aviator.

    In 2012, several of Hughes's former business associates came forward to contradict these claims in the book We Knew Howard Hughes: A Collection of Memoirs. Concerning the urination stories, co-author Jim Whetton said, “He never did such a thing. The man was a recluse, period. That’s it.”

    Shocking fact?
  • 4

    Robert Maheu Was Hughes's Right-Hand Man, Yet They Never Met Face-To-Face

    Photo: SDASM Archives / Flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    Robert Maheu was a former FBI agent who built a business performing covert operations around the world. Typically, he was retained when the US government or CIA wanted to keep certain clandestine activities at arm's length. Maheu was heavily involved in such enterprises as the Bay of Pigs and the recruitment of the American Mafia to kill Fidel Castro. 

    Howard Hughes initially retained Maheu in 1955 to investigate business rivals and romantic interests. Over time, Maheu became a major advisor to Hughes, especially when the billionaire began to buy up mob-controlled casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. It was up to Maheu to delicately remove underworld influence over Hughes's properties. Hughes would talk daily to Maheu for hours, send the man numerous memos, and entrusted him with the most sensitive negotiations. 

    In 1970, the two had a falling out. Maheu was fired, and Hughes left Las Vegas for good - you might think this was the last time the two saw each other. But, in the 15 years that Robert Maheu worked closely with Howard Hughes, the two had never met face to face.

    Shocking fact?