F. Warren Hellman, a banjo-picking billionaire whose life followed such an extraordinary and eccentric arc it perhaps could only have taken place in San Francisco, died Sunday evening at UCSF Medical Center. He was 77.
The cause was complications from treatment he had been receiving for leukemia. Doctors had told Hellman that the illness could be neutralized, and he postponed chemotherapy treatments this fall to appear with his band The Wronglers at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, his lavish annual gift to the city, and to tour with one of his idols, Jimmie Dale Gilmore. With typical humor, Hellman joked in recent weeks that he had changed his name to Luke Emia. He referred to his dreaded chemo medication as Retuxif-ck.
A rugged iconoclast whose views on life rarely failed to surprise, Hellman was a lifelong Republican who supported labor unions, an investment banker whose greatest joy was playing songs of the working class in a bluegrass band, and a billionaire who wanted to pay more taxes and preferred the company of crooners and horsemen who shared his love of music and cross-country “ride and tie” racing.
Read the full article at The Bay Citizen.
This past Thursday Hellman was honored when Golden Gate Park's Speedway Meadow was renamed Hellman Hollow. Every fall for the last 11 years, Hellman has sponsored the free weekend-long Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park.
Update 9:50 a.m. Joshua Johnson this morning interviewed Susan Hirsch, who advised Hellman on his substantial philanthropic enterprises. Ms. Hirsch said Hellman and his family made close to 400 grants a year.
"He cared so much about San Francisco," she said. "This was the sandbox he wanted to play in. There were people who said you can be on the national or international stage, but he wanted to know the people and be involved in the project."
KQED Radio's Forum program also did a show on Hellman this morning, which will be archived here later today.