September 24, 2022

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Hawaiian Tropic founder Ron Rice dies; ‘Suntan King’ was 81

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As Ron Rice instructed it, he was sitting in his lifeguard stand on Daytona Seaside, when he got the plan that built him a multimillionaire. Seeking out at the seashore towels, umbrellas and surfboards scattered across the white Florida sand, he noticed anyone applying Coppertone, just one of the number of suntan lotions then out there in the late 1960s. He believed he could make something improved.

Mr. Rice, a element-time lifeguard who taught large college chemistry and coached football, was not specifically an pro at skin care. But he had shown an entrepreneurial spirit since he was a boy, when he used his summers promoting home made honey, cider, black walnuts and reside rabbits from a roadside stand in the vicinity of his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In college he had trained to look for for uranium and oil, thinking he could possibly make a profession out of mining and drilling. But immediately after his beachside epiphany, he “ended up receiving in a different form of oil business enterprise,” as he later on put it. Decamping to his garage with a 20-gallon garbage can and a broom take care of that he applied as a stir stick, he established to work mixing a minor “A, B, C” with “X, Y, Z,” utilizing a unique mix of fruit oils to develop a new line of coconut-scented suntan lotions.

With aid from a several neighborhood young children and a $500 bank loan from his father, he began advertising foil-label bottles of his concoction in 1969. He gave it an exotic name, Hawaiian Tropic — his chosen model identify, Tropic Tan, was currently taken — and recruited a soccer mentor and lifeguard pals as some of his initially staff.

In a couple of a long time, he had a manufacturing unit in Ormond Beach, Fla., and was distributing his items around the globe, setting up an empire of lotions and tanning oils that he promoted with aid from star-studded Hawaiian Tropic splendor pageants. “Suntan is sexual intercourse,” he stated. “That’s what it all boils down to. Sexual intercourse and vanity.”

Mr. Rice, a tireless promoter who turned acknowledged as the Suntan King, was 81 when he died May 19 at a medical center in Daytona Beach. His longtime adviser Bill Jennings, a former government at Hawaiian Tropic, mentioned Mr. Rice had been in inadequate overall health but did not cite a precise cause.

As Hawaiian Tropic grew into a single of the nation’s biggest sun-treatment brands, Mr. Rice ongoing to maintain himself apart from other executives, dismissing the fit-clad businessmen he noticed at the airport as “the penguin specific, the polyester parade.” At the identical time, he cultivated an extravagant way of living that was all but unimaginable for a previous “mountain boy” from North Carolina.

Bordering himself with bronze-skinned, blonde-haired younger women, he acquired a track record as the Hugh Hefner of Florida. He flew on non-public jets, sailed on an 80-foot yacht and acquired a stable of Italian racecars, together with a Lamborghini that he loaned to his friend Burt Reynolds for a scene in “The Cannonball Operate.”

His life, he explained, was guided by a person rule: “If it is not pleasurable, really don’t do it.”

Extensive in advance of American offices began to embrace a much more relaxed gown code, Mr. Rice inspired his workforce to wear jeans and sandals, and let them off perform each Friday at midday to go to the seashore. He was regularly on the highway, overseeing attractiveness pageants and picture shoots with the brand’s bikini-clad versions at house, he was normally carousing with celebs like Julio Iglesias, Alan Thicke and Fabio.

“Ron likes commotion — he goes out just about every solitary night,” Cheryl Shade, the company’s director of marketing and promotion, told the Fort Lauderdale Solar-Sentinel in 1986. “But if he will come in at 4 a.m. and has an notion, he’ll simply call you. He life and breathes Hawaiian Tropic.”

Mr. Rice promoted the manufacturer by sponsoring racecars and sporting situations, and he leveraged his Hollywood connections to get Hawaiian Tropic bottles highlighted in flicks and on Tv set shows. To even more the company’s affiliation with solar-soaked youth, he released his very own attractiveness pageant in 1983.

The benefits considerably exceeded his expectations. “It was absolutely magic,” he instructed the Knoxville Information Sentinel of Tennessee. “I had in no way found anything at all like it. We experienced every single horn dog in the world appear in and see the pageant.”

His pageants went on to attract superstar judges and particular friends which include O.J. Simpson and Donald Trump, whose next spouse, Marla Maples, was a former Hawaiian Tropic contestant. “He was type of a typical with us,” Mr. Rice instructed the Boston Globe in 2016, including that when Trump threw parties at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach front, “He’d phone me up and say, ‘I’m possessing a significant social gathering. Bring your ladies in.’ ”

Mr. Rice’s connection with his female staff came beneath scrutiny in the late 1990s, when he was sued by two gals who alleged in different lawsuits that he experienced sexually harassed them at perform. Mr. Rice denied wrongdoing and settled out of court with a single of the girls, a former Hawaiian Tropic model. The other lawsuit ongoing for six several years before a jury concluded that he was not liable for damages.

Even though the instances designed headlines in Florida, they seemed to have tiny influence on Hawaiian Tropic, which experienced net gross sales of a lot more than $110 million in 2006. Mr. Rice sold the firm to Playtex Products the upcoming year for $83 million, in accordance to the Orlando Sentinel, and the brand later on improved fingers yet again prior to starting to be element of Edgewell Personal Treatment.

Mr. Rice signed a 5-yr noncompete clause immediately after the sale. Unable to quit the enterprise altogether, he hired some of his former staff members to start a new corporation, Habana Brisa, right after the clause expired. The brand name commenced advertising solar-treatment products and solutions previously this year, according to Jennings.

Ronald Joseph Rice was born in Asheville, N.C., on Sept. 1, 1940. His mother was a homemaker, and his father managed construction tasks and devoted the previous many years of his daily life to making his dream residence at the leading of a mountain.

Mr. Rice helped by mixing mortar and carrying rocks, and later paid homage to his father by using granite rocks from the area to entire his own dream property, a beachfront mansion in Ormond Seashore where by he lived for additional than a few decades.

He had been drawn to the Florida coast due to the fact childhood, when his family traveled to Key West 1 year and passed by way of Daytona Seaside. As his father drove slowly and gradually across the seaside, Mr. Rice opened the doorway and loaded a little box with sand. He kept it on his desk for yrs, according to the St. Petersburg Moments, and vowed that he would transfer to the Daytona area 1 day — satisfying that assure immediately after he graduated from the College of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1964.

Mr. Rice’s to start with marriage, to Linda Rice, ended in divorce. In 1990 he married Darcy LaPier, a former Overlook Hawaiian Tropic who was 25 decades his junior. They arrived at the ceremony “in a replica of Queen Elizabeth’s royal carriage, drawn by a spotted Appaloosa with a mane and tail dyed pink,” in accordance to the Times.

In honor of Hawaiian Tropic’s origins, they reportedly drank champagne from the exact rubbish can — plated in nickel and outfitted with a tap — that Mr. Rice had made use of to produce his unique tanning oil formula.

The relationship was annulled soon after two many years, when LaPier still left him for Belgian motion star Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mr. Rice discovered that she experienced under no circumstances divorced her past partner. The two remained friends and elevated a daughter, Sterling Rice, and in modern yrs Mr. Rice found out that he had another daughter, Valerie Deese, from an before connection.

Both equally daughters endure him, in addition to a sister and a granddaughter.

Requested about his everyday living in the a long time soon after Hawaiian Tropic, Mr. Rice after advised a Tv set interviewer that prosperity had its strengths, even though some items never ever changed. “It’s pleasurable,” he said, according to his obituary in the Daytona Beach front News-Journal, “and there’s a great deal of more toys included, and a lot of pleasurable periods, and I drink a tiny improved good quality wine, of training course. But I’m nonetheless a nation boy.”