May 12, 2011
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.