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George Gund III, 75; unorthodox businessman, team owner

George Gund brought professional hockey to San Jose, Calif.AP / File

NEW YORK — George Gund III had many passions, and the money to pursue them. He loved hockey, so he bought several teams, including the San Jose Sharks. He loved film, so he nurtured directors, including a young Francis Ford Coppola, and supported festivals around the world, including Sundance.

He was the firstborn son of the banker and philanthropist George Gund II, who made his fortune as the head of Cleveland Trust when it was the largest bank in Ohio. The younger Gund inherited his father’s vast wealth and his abundant eyebrows, but he flaunted only the latter. ‘‘He loved them,’’ Melanie Blum, a longtime assistant, recalled. ‘‘When he was going through chemo, he was worried he was going to lose his eyebrows. But he never did, and he was so happy about that.’’


Mr. Gund died Jan. 15 at his home Palm Springs, Calif. He was 75. The cause was stomach cancer, Blum said.

He had many successes as a businessman, but he hardly followed a conventional route. He was kicked out of prep school (he got his GED instead), he enlisted in the Marines, he put off getting his college degree (forever), and he spent his adult life in a kind of alternative study program that could also be called doing whatever he wanted to do — and doing it quite well.

‘‘We did see him as a bit of rebel,’’ his brother Geoffrey recalled. “If there wasn’t a quality about George that was so winning, we might have regarded it differently.’’

He immersed himself in hockey and high art, independent filmmaking and American Indian history, cowboy poetry and Japanese calligraphy. If he went to Eastern Europe in the 1970s to scout a player for one of the hockey teams he owned, he might slip out with copies of a few low-budget films he would then screen at one of the endless film festivals he helped finance. If he agreed to meet you at noon in San Francisco, he might get there at the right time but not necessarily on the right day.


But he did get plenty done. With his brother Gordon, he bought the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team in 1983 and sold control of it in 2005 at an enormous profit.

The pair bought and sold several professional hockey teams, including the Minnesota North Stars, and they were instrumental in bringing the NHL to the Bay Area through their purchase of the Sharks, an expansion team, in 1990.

He was an early supporter of Coppola (they shared a Mitsubishi turboprop for a time), he was heavily involved at Sundance (Robert Redford ribbed him for his famous mumbling speaking style), and he was a trustee, like his siblings, of the George Gund Foundation in Cleveland, created by his father.

He leaves his wife, Iara Lee, a filmmaker; his son, George Gund IV; two grandchildren; his brothers Gordon, Graham, and Geoffrey, who is president of the Gund Foundation; and his sisters Agnes, the former president of the Museum of Modern Art, and Louise.

Two previous marriages ended in divorce.