Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Article excerpt

Why would a German playboy-billionaire industrialist with a large family and lots of old and good friends have dinner in Gstaad with one of his closest buddies, then go up to his chalet and put a bullet in his brain? As of writing, Gunter Sachs's suicide is a mystery.

But Gunter was always somewhat mysterious, and I have known him since the late Fifties. His uncle, Fritz von Opel, was the heir to the Opel car fortune and lived the grand life in St Moritz and St Tropez, where he had opulent houses. Von Opel was his uncle on his mother's side. His father was also an industrialist - Sachs ball bearings, machines or something like that - and was probably richer than the Opels. Fritz von Opel's son, Ricky, blew his share; Gunter's side multiplied it. But his father did commit suicide, so escaping the claustrophobia of life and old age was in Gunter's genes.

Gunter and I hung out together quite a lot in Paris during the early Sixties. His close friend Jean-Claude Sauer was a Paris Match photographer who was also a close buddy of mine. But after a year or two we went our own ways. Gunter loved to have a crowd with him at all times. His friends were his life, even more than the women he collected non-stop. He married Brigitte Bardot after a brief courtship - 'I have a tiger in my bed, ' he once told me, paraphrasing the Shell advertisement which had just appeared. But he soon wandered off with some prettier models. La BB needed too much attention, something Gunter was not about to provide.

His brother Ernst was killed skiing; he was a daredevil, as was Gunter, who raced the bob as well as the Cresta in St Moritz. He was extremely generous and gave non-stop parties, and his closest friends were not necessarily rich or famous. His chalet in Gstaad was 100 yards as the crow flies from mine, and he owned houses all over the place: St Tropez, St Moritz, Munich, Paris, you name it. His firstborn son, Rolf, lives in London and is very much in control of the Sachs conglomerate.

So, why does a man like Gunter kill himself? According to his family he was afraid of losing his memory and mind. It is said that life gets much of its meaning from the fact that it ends. It is also said that humans are animals, with no special destiny or future. Old age confirms such pessimistic sayings. There is no question in my mind that Germans tend toward depression. They are too romantic, too 'inwardly torn', according to Holderlin, their greatest poet. Gunter's outward behaviour was one of gaiety and fun. …

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