H. Ross Perot, the colorful, self-made Texas billionaire who rose from a childhood of Depression-era poverty and twice ran for president as a third-party candidate, has died. He was 89.

The cause of death was leukemia, a family spokesman said Tuesday.

Perot, whose 19% of the vote in 1992 stands among the best showings by an independent candidate in the past century, died early Tuesday at his home in Dallas surrounded by his devoted family, family spokesman James Fuller said.

FILE - In this Oct. 15, 1992, file photo, President George H.W. Bush, left, talks with independent candidate Ross Perot as Democratic candidate Bill Clinton stands aside at the end of their second presidential debate in Richmond, Va. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander, File)
FILE – In this Oct. 15, 1992, file photo, President George H.W. Bush, left, talks with independent candidate Ross Perot as Democratic candidate Bill Clinton stands aside at the end of their second presidential debate in Richmond, Va. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander, File)

As a boy in Texarkana, Texas, Perot delivered newspapers from the back of a pony. He earned his billions in a more modern way, however. After attending the U.S. Naval Academy and becoming a salesman for IBM, he went his own way — creating and building Electronic Data Systems Corp., which helped other companies manage their computer networks.

Yet the most famous event in his business career didn’t involve sales and earnings; he financed a private commando raid in 1979 to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran. The tale was turned into a book and a movie.

“I always thought of him as stepping out of a Norman Rockwell painting and living the American dream,” said Tom Luce, who was a young lawyer when Perot hired him to handle his business and personal legal work. “A newspaper boy, a midshipman, shaking Dwight Eisenhower’s hand at his graduation, and he really built the computer-services industry at EDS.”

FILE – In this Oct. 16, 1992, file photo, Ross Perot is shown on a screen in a paid 30-minute television commercial, during a media preview in Dallas. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo, File)
FILE – In this Oct. 16, 1992, file photo, Ross Perot is shown on a screen in a paid 30-minute television commercial, during a media preview in Dallas. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo, File)

“He had the vision and the tenacity to make it happen,” Luce said. “He was a great communicator. He never employed a speechwriter — he wrote all his own speeches. He was a great storyteller.”

Perot first became known to Americans outside of business circles by claiming that the U.S. government left behind hundreds of American soldiers who were missing or imprisoned at the end of the Vietnam War. Perot fanned the issue at home and discussed it privately with Vietnamese officials in the 1980s, angering the Reagan administration, which was formally negotiating with Vietnam’s government.

Perot’s wealth, fame and confident prescription for the nation’s economic ills propelled his 1992 campaign against President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. Some Republicans blamed him for Bush’s loss to Clinton as Perot garnered the largest percentage of votes for a third-party candidate since former President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 bid.

FILE - In this June 1, 1996, file photo, former presidential candidate Ross Perot addresses the first California statewide convention of the Reform Party, a new political party he founded, at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
FILE – In this June 1, 1996, file photo, former presidential candidate Ross Perot addresses the first California statewide convention of the Reform Party, a new political party he founded, at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

During the campaign, Perot spent $63.5 million of his own money and bought 30-minute television spots. He used charts and graphs to make his points, summarizing them with a line that became a national catchphrase: “It’s just that simple.”

Perot’s second campaign four years later was far less successful. He was shut out of presidential debates when organizers said he lacked sufficient support. He got just 8% of the vote, and the Reform Party that he founded and hoped to build into a national political force began to fall apart.

However, Perot’s ideas on trade and deficit reduction remained part of the political landscape. He blamed both major parties for running up a huge federal budget deficit and allowing American jobs to be sent to other countries. The movement of U.S. jobs to Mexico, he said, created a “giant sucking sound.”

FILE - Presidential hopeful H. Ross Perot speaks at a rally in Austin, Texas, in this 1992 file photo. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died. He was 89. (AP Photo, File)
FILE – Presidential hopeful H. Ross Perot speaks at a rally in Austin, Texas, in this 1992 file photo. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died. He was 89. (AP Photo, File)

Perot continued to speak out about federal spending for many years. In 2008, he launched a website to highlight the nation’s debt with a ticker that tracked the rising total, a blog and a chart presentation.

Henry Ross Perot was born in Texarkana on June 27, 1930. His father was a cotton broker; his mother a secretary. Perot said his family survived the Depression relatively well through hard work and by managing their money carefully.

Young Perot’s first job was delivering papers in a poor, mostly black part of town from his pony, Miss Bee. When the newspaper tried to cut his commission, he said he complained to the publisher — and won. He said that taught him to take problems straight to the top.

In this undated 1992 photo, businessman and U.S. presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, of Texas, waves. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89.  (AP Photo/File)
In this undated 1992 photo, businessman and U.S. presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, of Texas, waves. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/File)

From Texarkana, Perot went to the U.S. Naval Academy even though he had never been on a ship or seen the ocean. After the Navy, Perot joined International Business Machines in 1955 and quickly became a top salesman. In his last year at IBM, he filled his sales quota for the year in January.

In 1962, with $1,000 from his wife, Margot, Perot founded Electronic Data Systems. Hardware accounted for about 80% of the computer business, Perot said, and IBM wasn’t interested in the other 20%, including services.

Many of the early hires at EDS were former military men, and they had to abide by Perot’s strict dress code — white shirts, ties, no beards or mustaches — and long workdays. Many had crew cuts, like Perot.

FILE - In this Oct. 31, 1968, file photo H. Ross Perot, head of Electronic Data Systems Corp., of Dallas, holds a piece of electronic computer equipment in Dallas. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/Ferd Kaufman)
FILE – In this Oct. 31, 1968, file photo H. Ross Perot, head of Electronic Data Systems Corp., of Dallas, holds a piece of electronic computer equipment in Dallas. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/Ferd Kaufman)

The company’s big break came in the mid-1960s when the federal government created Medicare and Medicaid, the health programs for seniors, the disabled and the poor. States needed help in running the programs, and EDS won contracts — starting in Texas — to handle the millions of claims.

EDS first sold stock to the public in 1968, and overnight, Perot was worth $350 million. His fortune doubled and tripled as the stock price rose steadily.

In 1984, he sold control of the company to General Motors Corp. for $2.5 billion and received $700 million in a buyout. In 2008, EDS was sold to Hewlett-Packard Co.

ARCHIVO - En esta foto de archivo del 1 de junio de 1996, el multimillonario H. Ross Perot habla en la convención de California del Partido Reformista, fundado por él. El dos veces candidato presidencial independiente murió el martes 9 de julio de 2019, Tenía 89 años. (AP Foto/Reed Saxon, File)
ARCHIVO – En esta foto de archivo del 1 de junio de 1996, el multimillonario H. Ross Perot habla en la convención de California del Partido Reformista, fundado por él. El dos veces candidato presidencial independiente murió el martes 9 de julio de 2019, Tenía 89 años. (AP Foto/Reed Saxon, File)

Perot went on to establish another computer-services company, Perot Systems Corp. He retired as CEO in 2000 and was succeeded by his son, Ross Perot Jr. In 2009, Dell Inc. bought Perot Systems.

Forbes magazine this year estimated Perot’s wealth at $4.1 billion.

Perot was not immune to mistakes in business. His biggest might have been a 1971 investment in duPont Glore Forgan, then one of the biggest brokerage houses on Wall Street. The administration of President Richard Nixon asked Perot to save the company to head off an investor panic, and he also poured money into another troubled brokerage, Walston & Co., but wound up losing much of his $100 million investment.

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 1968, file photo, H. Ross Perot,  Electronic Data Systems Corp. chairman, poses in Plano, Texas. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/File)
FILE – In this Oct. 30, 1968, file photo, H. Ross Perot, Electronic Data Systems Corp. chairman, poses in Plano, Texas. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/File)

It was during the Nixon administration that Perot became involved in the issue of U.S. prisoners of war in Southeast Asia. Perot said Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asked him to lead a campaign to improve treatment of POWs held in North Vietnam. Perot chartered two jets to fly medical supplies and the wives of POWs to Southeast Asia. They were not allowed into North Vietnam, but the trip attracted enormous media attention.

After their release in 1973, some prisoners said conditions in the camps had improved after the failed missions.

In 1979, the Iranian government jailed two EDS executives and Perot vowed to win their release.

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 1992, file photo, Ross Perot holds up a newspaper article as he testifies before the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Perot said he believes some American prisoners may have been left behind after the Vietnam War. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE – In this Aug. 11, 1992, file photo, Ross Perot holds up a newspaper article as he testifies before the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Perot said he believes some American prisoners may have been left behind after the Vietnam War. Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died, a family spokesperson said Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 89. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

“Ross came to the prison one day and said, ‘We’re going to get you out,'” one of the men, Paul Chiapparone, told The Associated Press. “How many CEOs would do that today?”

Perot recruited retired U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Arthur “Bull” Simons to lead a commando raid on the prison. A few days later, the EDS executives walked free after the shah’s regime fell and mobs stormed the prison. Simons’ men sneaked the executives out of the country and into Turkey. The adventure was recalled in Ken Follett’s best-selling book “On Wings of Eagles” and a TV miniseries.

In later years, Perot pushed the Veterans Affairs Department to study neurological causes of Gulf War syndrome, a mysterious illness reported by many soldiers who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. He scoffed at officials who blamed the illnesses on stress — “as if they are wimps” — and paid for additional research.

Perot received a special award from the VA for his support of veterans and the military in 2009.

In Texas, Perot led commissions on education reform and crime. He was given many honorary degrees and awards for business success and patriotism.

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement that “Texas and America have lost a strong patriot.”

“Ross Perot epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit and the American creed. He gave selflessly of his time and resources to help others in our community, across our country, and around the world,” Bush said. “He loved the U.S. military and supported our service members and veterans. Most importantly, he loved his dear wife, children, and grandchildren.”

While he worked at Perot Systems in suburban Dallas, entire hallways were filled with memorabilia from soldiers and POWs that Perot had helped. His personal office was dominated by large paintings of his wife and five children and bronze sculptures by Frederic Remington.

Several original Norman Rockwell paintings hung in the waiting area, and Perot once told a visiting reporter that he tried to live by Rockwell’s ethics of hard, honest work and family.

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