by Taki Theodoracopulos
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? The New York Times says Gunter Sachs had been
diagnosed with an “incurable degenerative disease,” but I don’t think that fully explains his suicide. Gunter was always somewhat mysterious. I knew him since the late 50s. His maternal 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. Gunter’s father was also an industrialist and was probably richer than the Opels. Fritz von Opel’s son Rikky blew his share while 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 a lot during the early 60s in Paris. His close friend Jean-Claude Sauer was a Paris Match photographer who was also a 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. He was extremely generous and gave nonstop parties, and his closest friends were not necessarily rich or famous. His friends were his life, even more than the women he collected nonstop. He married Brigitte Bardot after a brief courtship—“I have a tiger in my bed”—he once told me, paraphrasing the gasoline ad campaign at the time. 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. His chalet was 100 yards as the crow flies from mine in Gstaad, 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.
Gunter’s outward behavior was one of gaiety and fun. His marriage to Bardot had put him firmly in the paparazzi’s sights, and for forty some-odd years he was photographed always with a bevy of young blonde models and actresses. Yet his last marriage to a Swede lasted over forty years, a fact that left many of us wondering. If there ever was an open marriage—on Gunter’s side, that is—this was it. Gunter was not known as a soft touch, but he had a very good heart and was always there for those who needed help. Not many so-called playboys follow Christian teachings of helping out their fellow man.
Back in the 60s, just after the film Goldfinger appeared starring Sean Connery, Gunter had the idea to make a spoof of the James Bond movie starring Porfirio Rubirosa as Bond, a Greek billionaire as Goldfinger, and myself as Oddjob. We filmed for three days in St. Tropez, but then a storm blew away all our props. During the famous fight scene between Bond and Oddjob, Rubirosa swung a rifle which hit my elbow full force, breaking my funny bone. The Creole, on which we were filming, went aground, and Gunter got bored and took off with one of my girlfriends, a Chanel model. My elbow hurt too much for me to care about the girl. For years afterward Gunter and I would laugh about that disastrous week, and as it so often happens, we reminisced too much.
So why does a man such as Gunter kill himself? They say that life gets much of its meaning from the fact that it ends. They also say that humans are animals, with no special destiny or future. Old age confirms such pessimism. There is no question in my mind that Germans tend toward depression. They are too romantic, too “inwardly torn” according to Hölderlin, their greatest poet. Although I know nothing of his motives for taking his life, I would say it was a fear of getting very old, coupled with the fact that he spent his life surrounded by youth, and when one gets too old one becomes a comic figure next to the young. And when one survives their old friends, they have to make new ones, and that’s a bore.
I was not a close friend of Gunter’s but we had partied together, had shared women, and had so many common close friends, I was truly shocked to hear of his death. He never harmed anyone, never spoke badly of people, and had a kind of craziness that was lovable. So why did the wrong kind of billionaire kill himself? There are so many others who would be doing a service to humanity by topping themselves. The list is much too long for this space. Rest in peace, dear Gunter; you brought much happiness to many people, and there is no better compliment in life or death.
Taki Theodoracopulos, better known as Taki, is a journalist and writer, living in Gstaad, London, and New York. His column ‘High Life’ has appeared in The Spectator for the past 25 years, and he has also written for National Review, the London Sunday Times, Esquire, Vanity Fair, the New York Press, and Quest Magazine, among others. In 2002 Taki founded The American Conservative magazine with Pat Buchanan and Scott McConnell, and he is also publisher of the British magazine Right Now! Taki has been writing for GstaadLife since its first season in 2003/4. More of his musings can be found here.