John du Pont Biography

Athlete, Murderer, Writer(1938–2010)
Eccentric millionaire John du Pont killed Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz at the Foxcatcher Farm estate in January 1996.

Synopsis

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 22, 1938, DuPont Co. heir John du Pont grew up amid immense wealth and privilege. He pursued his interests in science and athletics as a young man, eventually founding a training center for the country's top amateur wrestling talent on his estate. After murdering wrestler Dave Schultz at the facility in January 1996, du Pont was imprisoned until his death on December 9, 2010. The story is presented in the 2014 film Foxcatcher.  

Early Years

John Eleuthère du Pont was born on November 22, 1938, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to William Jr. and Jean Liseter Austin du Pont. An heir to the DuPont Co. family fortune, du Pont enjoyed a childhood of immense wealth and privilege on the 800-acre Liseter Hall Farm estate in Newtown Square. However, his parents divorced when he was a young boy, and outside of school he mainly interacted with his mom and Liseter Hall's servants. Du Pont graduated from the Haverford School in 1957 and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, but left before the end of his freshman year.

A Man of Varied Tastes

Du Pont began exploring his wide array of interests in the following years, embarking on nature expeditions to the Philippines, Samoa, the Fiji Islands and other exotic locales. He also indulged his athletic desires, training with the Olympic-caliber athletes of California's Santa Clara Swim Club.

After graduating from the University of Miami with a degree in marine biology in 1965, du Pont decided to try his hand at the modern pentathlon. He competed in several events with the goal of making the 1968 U.S. Olympic team, but fell short in his bid.

In 1972, du Pont founded the Delaware Museum of Natural History and installed himself as the director. He also wrote four books about birds during this time period.

Establishes Foxcatcher Farm

Du Pont eventually developed a strong interest in wrestling. In 1986, he provided the funds for Villanova University to found a wrestling program and build an athletic arena, with the stipulation he get the chance to serve as head coach. Amid charges of sexual abuse and other indiscretions against the wealthy benefactor, the program was dropped two years later.

Undaunted, du Pont built a world-class athletic facility and formed the Foxcatcher National Training Center on his Newtown Square estate for the country's top wrestling talent. He renamed the estate Foxcatcher Farm after his mother died in 1988, and devoted his attention to his stable of athletes.

Murder and Final Years

Long known for his eccentricities, du Pont began displaying increasingly alarming behavior after the death of his mother. He spoke of seeing ghosts in the walls of his home, and asked to be introduced as the Dalai Lama at one world-championship wrestling meet.

On January 26, 1996, du Pont shot and killed wrestler Dave Schultz, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist who was training for a comeback at the 1996 Atlanta games. After a tense two-day standoff at Foxcatcher Farm, du Pont was lured outside and captured after police turned off a boiler.

Du Pont was found to be mentally ill but guilty of third-degree murder in early 1997, and was sentenced to 13 to 30 years in prison. Despite a series of appeals by his high-powered legal team, he remained behind bars until he died of acute aspiration pneumonia on December 9, 2010, at Laurel Highlands State Prison.

Controversy Over Will

His passing brought more controversy, as du Pont had named Bulgarian wrestler Valentin Jordanov Dimitrov and his relatives as the primary beneficiaries in his will. Relatives of du Pont sought to have the will overturned.

After du Pont’s death, production began on the big-screen project Foxcatcher, with Steve Carell portraying the troubled millionaire, Mark Ruffalo as the slain wrestler Schultz and Channing Tatum as Schultz' brother. The film debuted at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival and has garnered significant Oscar buzz.

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