LONDON — Sir Hugh Fraser, who inherited and lost the House of Fraser group of British department stores, including Harrod's in London, died at his home in Scotland on Tuesday.
He was 50 and his death was attributed to cancer.
A colorful tycoon, Fraser was estimated to have once gambled away $2.4 million on roulette tables in a single six-month period in 1976.
He became a household name in Britain as newspaper readers thrilled to his exploits, including a freewheeling business style, a taste for beautiful women and a penchant for casinos, despite a spectacularly unsuccessful gambling career.
Fraser took over as chairman of the House of Fraser group upon the 1966 death of his father, Lord Fraser of Allander, whose peerage he disclaimed.
He was then 29 and came into the $120-million House of Fraser, the family's 60-strong chain of department stores, featuring Harrod's as its flagship--Europe's largest shop, sprawling over a city-block in the heart of London's Knightsbridge section.
But he was ousted during a stormy board meeting in 1981, when Lonrho Ltd. conglomerate chief Roland Rowland launched a takeover bid. Fraser wanted to sell the group to Lonrho, but his fellow directors did not.
Lonrho's long-running campaign to take over the House of Fraser failed in 1985 when the Egyptian brothers, Mohammed, Ali and Sayed al-Fayed, gained control of the group for 615 million British pounds (now $972 million).
After leaving the department store group, Fraser set up a chain of menswear shops but later sold most of them and became principal trustee of a charitable foundation set up by his father.
Fraser was once dubbed "Scotland's most eligible bachelor," and his 15-year reign as Harrod's chairman coincided with two marriages--and two divorces.
He blamed the failure of his first marriage on overwork and his second to personality differences. But his name was linked in the tabloids to a succession of women.
"I'm faithful to one woman--one woman at a time, that is," he once told a reporter.