Bobby Haas, who made a fortune in the leveraged buyout business, became an aerial photographer for National Geographic and built a world-class motorcycle museum in the Dallas Design District, died unexpectedly Tuesday after a brief respiratory illness.
He was 74.
Haas made his millions three decades ago at 41 with his then business partner, Tom Hicks, by amassing and selling a soft-drink empire that included Dr Pepper, A&W and 7UP. The pair’s take from the transactions was in excess of $100 million.
“We were the right two people at the right time in the right market,” said Hicks, who was Haas’ partner for five years beginning in 1984. “We had unbelievable success. I will always look back at that with fond memories.”
By both of their accounts, Hicks and Haas had very different personalities — both personal and investment wise — and went their separate ways amicably in 1989. Hicks said they stayed in touch, and both lived in Museum Tower.
“I’m very sad about his passing,” Hicks said, then added with a chuckle, “If you had told me that after he quit the investment business that he would have done the things he ended up doing with photography and motorcycles, I would have bet a lot of money against you.”
In 2002, Haas became the first photographer to publish a single-photographer, all-aerial book with National Geographic when he dared to take photos while hanging out of a helicopter door.
He published a trilogy of bestselling National Geographic coffee-table books of aerial photos taken in Africa, Latin America and the Arctic, and two children’s books.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University in 1969 and law degree from Harvard Law School in 1972. But he was a lifelong sponge when it came to learning new things.
Haas bought his first motorcycle nine years ago and became absorbed with the motorcycle world — the bikes and the culture.
He bought or commissioned 232 vintage, classic and modern one-of-a-kind custom motorcycles and built the Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery in the Design District in 2018 to show them off to the public.
He was a leading patron for custom motorcycle builders worldwide.
Earlier this year, Haas added documentary filmmaker to his storied résumé with Leaving Tracks, a feature-length film that was released in 100-plus countries and 11 languages on AppleTV, iTunes, Google Play and YouTube in April.
It’s part biopic and part tribute to the biker brotherhood but mostly a road map to navigating the unnerving curves that life throws your way, he said in an interview last spring.
He spent more than $1 million making a movie that he knew would not be a commercial success.
“I never thought this would be a moneymaker,” Haas said. “If it gives life lessons and guideposts to other people, regardless if they even know how to ride a motorcycle, then that’s a worthwhile effort. The point of art is to educate, inspire and entertain, but it’s not to put shekels in your bank account.”
Collapsed after workout
His death came as a shock to those who knew him best, because Bobby, as he was universally known, lived his life at full throttle and never looked his age.
Stacey Mayfield, Haas’ partner in life and business, described her “soulmate” as Benjamin Button, the character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story who is old when he’s born but an infant when he dies.
Haas had an aggressive case of COVID-19 in June 2020 that kept him confined in his Museum Tower condo for 42 days. But he thought he had fully recovered.
In mid-August, he began having respiratory issues and was scheduled for testing on Friday. He collapsed Tuesday after his morning workout and died upon arrival at William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, Mayfield said.
“He was larger than life, shining so bright and touching everyone who he met,” said Mayfield who is director of the Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery. “I’ve just lost the love of my life. I will carry his energy, passion and love with me.”
“I’m so sorry to hear this bad news,” said Rick Fairless, owner of Strokers Dallas, the area’s leading biker hangout. “Bobby was a mover and shaker in the motorcycle industry, and we’re proud that he is a Dallas, Texas, guy.”
Nick Davis, head of Nick Davis Productions in New York, spent a year working with Haas while producing Leaving Tracks. He said his life was forever changed by the experience.
“English teachers tell you to never use the word unique, but Bobby Haas was unique. No one who ever met him would ever say they’d met anyone quite like him,” Davis said. “He was challenging, large-hearted, open-minded, tough, disciplined and so soft.”
Craig Rodsmith, a custom bike builder in Illinois who was featured in the film, said he felt like he’d lost his brother.
Last year, Haas and Rodsmith co-designed “Mister Fahrenheit,” a racing cycle with an ultra-sleek passenger sidecar that they hoped would set a world record at the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah with Haas riding it.
Those plans were sidelined by the pandemic, but the pair were planning to take it to El Mirage Lake, a dry lake flats in California, to see if they could break the record there.
“Bobby elevated the whole motorcycle world with what he did. More than that, he elevated anyone who came into his life,” said Rodsmith, who has five custom bikes featured in the Haas museum.
In addition to Mayfield, Haas is survived by three adult daughters, Samatha Haas, Courtney Haas Bauch and Vanessa Haas Hood, from his 48-year marriage to Candice Haas, and four grandchildren.
A private celebration of life is being planned for later this month at the motorcycle museum.
Note: Story was revised Thursday evening to reflect that Bobby and Candice were married for 48 years, not 47.