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‘Suntan King’ Ron Rice, founder of Hawaiian Tropic, dies at 81

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According to Ron Rice, he was sitting at the lifeboat stand on Daytona Beach when he got the idea that made him a multimillionaire. While looking at the beach towels, umbrellas, and surfboards scattered across Florida’s white sands, he spotted someone applying Coppertone, one of the few sunscreens available on the market in the late 1960s. He thought he could do something better.

A part-time lifeguard who taught high school chemistry and coached football, Mr. Rice wasn’t exactly an expert in skincare. But he had shown an entrepreneurial spirit since childhood when he spent his summers selling homemade honey, cider, black walnuts and live rabbits from a roadside stall near his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In college, he was trained to explore uranium and oil, thinking he could pursue a career in mining and drilling. But after his beachside manifestation, he “got into a different kind of oil business,” as he later said. He went down to his garage with the 20-gallon trash can and the broom handle he used as a mixing stick, and began mixing a small “A, B, C” with a special combination of “X, Y, Z”. fruit oils to create a new line of coconut-scented sunscreen.

With the help of a few neighborhood kids and a $500 loan from his father, he began selling foil-labeled bottles of his mix in 1969. He gave it an exotic name, Hawaiian Tropic – his preferred brand name Tropic Tan was already taken – and hired a football coach and fellow lifeguards as some of his first employees.

Within a few years, Fla. owned a factory in Ormond Beach and distributed its products worldwide, building an empire of lotions and tanning oils with the help of star-studded Hawaiian Tropic beauty pageants. “The sun is sex,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. Sex and vanity.”

Mr. Rice, a tireless organizer and known as Suntan King, was 81 years old when he died at a Daytona Beach hospital on May 19. Longtime adviser Bill Jennings, a former executive at Hawaiian Tropic, said Mr. Rice was in poor health, but did not specify a specific reason.

As Hawaiian Tropic grew into one of the nation’s largest suncare brands, Mr. Rice continued to set himself apart from other executives by dismissing suited businessmen he saw at the airport as a “penguin express, polyester parade.” At the same time, he developed an unimaginably extravagant lifestyle for a former “mountain boy” from North Carolina.

He rose to fame as Florida’s Hugh Hefner by surrounding himself with tanned, blonde-haired young women. He flew private jets, sailed on an 80-foot yacht, and bought an Italian race car barn, including a Lamborghini he loaned to his friend Burt Reynolds for a scene in “The Cannonball Run.”

He said his life was guided by one rule: “If it’s not fun, don’t.”

Long before American offices even began to adopt casual dress codes, Mr. Rice encouraged his employees to wear jeans and sandals and allowed them to go to the beach every Friday afternoon from work. She often took the road with the brand’s bikini models, oversaw beauty contests and photo shoots; She was often at home hanging out with celebrities like Julio Iglesias, Alan Thicke, and Fabio.

“Ron loves mayhem—he goes out every night,” Cheryl Shade, the company’s director of advertising and promotion, told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. in 1986. “But he’ll come by at 4 a.m. and call you if he has an idea. The Hawaiian Tropic lives and breathes.”

Mr. Rice has promoted the brand by sponsoring race cars and sporting events, and has leveraged his Hollywood connections to have Hawaiian Tropic bottles featured in movies and TV shows. To further the company’s relationship with sun-drenched youth, she launched her own beauty pageant in 1983.

The results far exceeded their expectations. “It was absolutely magic,” he said. Tennessee Knoxville News Sentry. “I’ve never seen anyone like him before. We had all the horned dogs in the world come and see the competition.”

His contests continued to attract special guests, including celebrity judges and his second wife, Marla Maples, a former Hawaii Tropic contestant OJ Simpson and Donald Trump. “He was kind of a regular with us,” Mr. Rice said. He told the Boston Globe in 2016When Trump held parties at his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach, he said, “He calls me and says, ‘I’m throwing a big party. Bring your girls inside.’ ”

Mr. Rice’s relationship with his female employees came under scrutiny in the late 1990s when he was sued in separate lawsuits by two women who alleged he sexually harassed them at work. Mr. Rice denied misconduct and settled out of court with one of the women, a former Hawaiian Tropics model. The other case continued for six years until a jury ruled that he was not liable for the damages.

While the lawsuits made headlines in Florida, it seemed to have had little impact on the Hawaiian Tropic, which had net sales. More than $110 million in 2006. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Mr. Rice sold the company to Playtex Products for $83 million the following year, and the brand then changed hands again before becoming part of Edgewell Personal Care.

Mr. Rice signed a five-year non-compete clause after the sale. Unable to quit the job completely, he hired some of his former employees to start a new company, Habana Brisa. According to Jennings, the brand started selling sun care products earlier this year.

Ronald Joseph Rice was born on September 1, 1940, in Asheville, NC. His mother was a housewife and his father managed construction projects and devoted the last years of his life to building his dream house on top of a mountain.

Mr. Rice helped by mixing mortar and moving stones, and later paid homage to his father by using granite boulders from the area to complete his own dream house, a beach mansion in Ormond Beach, where he had lived for more than three decades.

He had been drawn to the Florida shores since he was a child, when his family traveled to Key West for a year and crossed the Daytona Beach. As his father slowly drove along the beach, Mr. Rice opened the door and filled a small box with sand. He kept it on his desk for years, according to him Petersburg Timesand he promised to move to the Daytona area one day – fulfilling that promise after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1964.

Mr. Rice’s first marriage to Linda Rice ended in divorce. In 1990, he married Darcy LaPier, a former Hawaiian Tropical Beauty who is 25 years his junior. They arrived at the ceremony with “a replica of Queen Elizabeth’s royal chariot drawn by a spotted Appaloosa, with its mane and tail painted pink,” according to the Times.

In honor of the Hawaiian Tropic’s origins, they reportedly drank champagne from the same nickel-plated and spouted bin that Mr. Rice used to create his original tanning oil formula.

there was a marriage canceled after two yearsWhen LaPier left her for Belgian action star Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mr. Rice discovered she had never divorced her previous husband. The two remained friends and raised a daughter, Sterling Rice, and in recent years, Mr. Rice discovered that he had another daughter, Valerie Deese, from a previous relationship.

Both daughters survived, except for a sister and a granddaughter.

When asked about his life in the years after the Hawaiian Tropic, Mr. Rice once told a TV interview that wealth has its advantages, although some things never change. “Fun,” he said, according to his obituary. Daytona Beach News Magazine, “and there’s a lot of extra toys and lots of fun times involved, and of course I drink a little bit of finer wine. But I am still a country boy.”

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