You know his name. You’ve seen his films. And yet, you may not know the tragedy behind the life of Howard Hughes. The business mogul and filmmaker, who was known for being a total drama magnet, had a dark history. even today, people can hardly believe the lesser-known details about the billionaire and his descent into madness.

Howard was born in 1905 during the age of polio outbreaks. His father founded the Hughes Tool Company and married Howard’s mother, who wanted to keep her son safe from the outbreak. Her method? Isolate him from the outside world. But she couldn’t protect him from everything.

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Ever have a nightmare that you can’t move your body? This was Howard’s reality. As a teenager, he suffered from an unexplained paralysis that prevented him from walking or moving normally for months. Doctors now believe Howard was experiencing extreme stress, which only got worse.

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At just 17 years old, Howard lost his mother to an ectopic pregnancy. At age 19, he lost his father to a heart attack. To lose both parents before the age of 20 was an extremely rare and tragic happenstance. And yet, Howard had one thing to be glad about — his fortune.

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About 75% of his father’s fortune, and a portion of the Hughes Tool Company, was handed to Howard, who then immediately dropped out of Rice University. He married Ella Botts Rice, the great-niece of the man who started the school, and opened the Hughes Aircraft Company. From there, it was all about going bigger.

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With his aircraft company underway, Howard decided to take on his second passion: filmmaking. He wasn’t successful at first, leading to a strain on his marriage. When Ella left him in 1929, Howard was lucky enough to be entering the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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Howard found himself associating with famous actresses. Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Katharine Hepburn, Hedy Lamarr… the list goes on. And yet, the starlets he mingled with were never impressed with Howard. Joan Fontaine claimed he “had no humor, no gaiety, no sense of joy, no vivacity.” Unfortunately, those rumors were just the start.

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When an actress he’d hired turned down his advances, Howard sought revenge. He had his director instruct the main actor to slap the actress repeatedly, harder and harder, during scene-work. The actor, in response, punched the director in the face, asking if that’s how he wanted it. The actress eventually sued and won.

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Despite some tense moments and a few lawsuits, Howard was ready for his passion-project movie: Hell’s Angels. It would combine aviation, filmmaking, fame, fortune, and beautiful women — all of his favorite things. However, his perfectionism caused the whole thing to implode.

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Howard’s first director quit, followed by his head stunt pilot, who refused to perform the dangerous maneuvers Howard was requesting. In defiance, Howard performed them himself, resulting in a skull fracture and subsequent facial surgery. From there, four pilots and a mechanic were killed on set. Still, Howard pushed on.

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By the time filming had wrapped up, Howard was hit with a hard reality: talkies. Since silent films were losing popularity, Howard reshot the entire picture with sound. He even started a rumor that Hell’s Angels was the most expensive film ever made (it wasn’t), just to get a bigger audience.

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After Hell’s Angels did moderately well at the box office, Howard moved onto his next big movie: Scarface. This 1932 film was chastised for praising violence and crime. Even after reshooting offensive scenes, the movie was banned in many places. Howard eventually removed it from circulation, and it wasn’t released again until 1979.

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Howard decided to take a break from filmmaking to get back into aviation. He invented and tested loads of aircrafts, many of which ended up crashing. He suffered from third-degree burns, crushed bones, cracked ribs, and a collapsed lung. One accident even moved his heart over to the right side of his chest!

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With his body mutilated, Howard became addicted to pain killers. He entered back into filmmaking only to grow a terrible reputation. He was a germaphobe and refused to talk to disheveled people. Ironically, he was becoming quite the slob himself, leading to his infamous reclusive years.

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Howard locked himself in a hotel room for four months straight, watching films non-stop. He reportedly urinated in jars and never bathed, his diet boiling down to just chicken, chocolate, and milk. He did all this mostly naked, with boxes of Kleenex on his feet. When the hotel complained, he simply bought the place.

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Howard continued renting out multiple floors of hotels, all to evade taxes. He remarried in 1957 to Jean Peters, who was under his control for 14 years. Even after their divorce, he kept close tabs on her. He often had his staff, wife, and various girlfriends stay in the hotels along with him.

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Even presidents knew of the reclusive billionaire. Nixon suspected Howard was working with the democrats, so he had the Watergate burglars target Howard’s director of operations. They found nothing, but the entire ordeal became part of the infamous Nixon Watergate Scandal. Because of this, Howard grew even more secluded.

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Howard died in 1976 on an aircraft traveling from Mexico to Houston. However, his body was so unrecognizable, he had to be identified by fingerprints. He weighted 87 pounds, had a long, shaggy beard, and his body was covered with broken syringes. An autopsy indicated kidney failure from prescription drugs.

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Since Howard had died “intestate,” meaning no will was written, so there were huge bouts of controversy regrading his fortune. When Howard’s will supposedly “appeared out of no where” three weeks after his death, everyone was suspicious.

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A gas station attendant “found” the will, which happened to list himself as the recipient of $156 million. Why him? He supposedly “saved Howard’s life” in 1967 after finding him stranded on the highway. The will was declared a fake, and Howard’s fortune was split between his cousins and his businesses.

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After his death, the Hughes Aircraft company sold for $5.2 billion, and Martin Scorsese later produced The Aviator, a biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Hughes fascinated people even decades later; some drew connections to the mysterious demise of wealthy brothers a few years earlier.

In March of 1947, New York City police received a worrying call from residents living in Harlem. The concerned citizens smelled an awful odor wafting in from their neighbors’ apartment. Something wasn’t right.

When cops arrived at the scene, they attempted to open the front door, only to discover that they were unable to enter — the door wouldn’t budge. Confused, they went around to a window in an effort to get inside.

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It was then that the officers discovered the apartment was packed with junk obstructing any possibility of entering. Still, they had to get inside to figure out what was going on. Why was the house so cluttered? What was the smell?

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The answer started with the bizarre and tragic story of the Collyer brothers. For Homer, born in 1881, and Langley, in 1885, life may have appeared normal on the outside. But this family was far from wholesome.

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The brothers’ parents, Dr. Herman and Susie Livington, were not your average couple. In fact, they were hiding a dark and sinister secret — not only were the two married to one another, but they were also first cousins.

At first, Langley and Homer seemed to have promising futures. They both attended the prestigious Columbia University, with the former studying engineering and the latter law. Langley was even a concert pianist.

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However, as they grew older, the brothers refused to move out and become independent human beings. Instead the duo chose to continue living in their parents’ home for years.

In 1919, their parents got divorced. Although the brothers were 38 and 34 years old, they opted to move with their mother into her Fifth Avenue apartment rather than go it alone. This was the same apartment that police would be called to decades later.

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Within the next decade, both Sue and Herman died. This drove the brothers further and further into isolation and social alienation, and by 1929, they were almost entirely cut off from the outside world.

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Life took a critical turn for the worse in 1933 when Homer lost his ability to see. Always a faithful brother, Langley went to extreme and often bizarre lengths to help his sibling.

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Langley quit his job in order to take care of Homer full time. He put him on a strange diet of peanut butter, black bread, and one hundred oranges a week in an attempt to help him regain his sight.

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Langley also began collecting every single day’s newspaper, amassing them in the hopes that they would help Homer catch up with the world once he could see again. At this point, their hoarding issue really took off.

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Unfortunately, despite Langley’s best efforts, Homer’s health didn’t improve, but rather drastically worsened. He developed rheumatism, leaving him completely paralyzed. Eventually the Collyer brothers couldn’t afford to pay any of their bills.

The city cut off their electricity, but Langley was a highly capable engineer. Ever resourceful, he fashioned a generator out of a Ford Model T, collected water from local parks, and provided warmth for the apartment using a small kerosene heater.

As the years went on, the brothers left the house only for essential items, and associated with no one apart from each other. They sank increasingly into their own twisted bubble and amassed more and more stuff.

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Langley also was a paranoid man. He had a deep-seated fear of intruders who might seek to do them harm, and so he created tunnels amidst the junk through which he could travel, and laid booby traps to foil any would-be invader.

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This strange and toxic way of life went on for decades, until that fateful day in March of 1947 when the police received that alarming call and found themselves staring into the window of an impossibly cluttered and darkened apartment.

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It took the cops hours to remove enough garbage to even get inside the domicile, extracting it piece by piece until finally they could enter. When they did, they were confronted with a horrific sight: Homer’s corpse, laying cold amidst the rubble. But where was Langley?

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The police initially assumed he had run off, leaving Homer to starve. They put out a search team to look for him, but it wouldn’t be until weeks later that they’d finally locate Langley Collyer…

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When law enforcement ultimately uncovered Homer’s younger sibling’s whereabouts, he wasn’t out and about in the city; he was lying stiff, ten feet away from his brother, in the apartment where he had spent his entire adult life. Police soon discovered the dark cause behind their deaths.

Ironically, Langley had met his end at the hands of one of his own booby traps, fashioned to protect him and Homer from external threats. Only three days later, Homer, unable to fend for himself, passed away from starvation.

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The process of clearing out the huge and incredibly crowded apartment was an arduous one. The many strange objects uncovered included 14 pianos, 25,000 books, pickled human organs, and the folding top of a horse-drawn carriage.

Ed Jackson – New York Daily News

The city tore down the house that Homer and Langley Collyer had lived out their eccentric existences in, and put in its place a garden named after them. Although they suffered from mental illness, it’s clear that the brothers loved each other more than anything.

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