Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer was born on December 17, 1937 in Sydney Australia. His father was Sir Frank Packer, who owned and operated “Australian Consolidated Press” and the “Nine Network”. His mother was Gretel Bullmore, daughter of Herbert Bullmore, Scottish rugby player.
Kerry’s paternal grandfather was Robert Clyde Packer, who owned and managed a successful Australian newspaper in the 1920’s. Kerry’s father carried on the family journalism tradition with the immensely popular “Australian Women’s weekly” magazine. The success of this magazine helped Kerry’s father build a media empire which he passed along to Kerry on his death in 1974. At that time, the family estate was valued at more than $100 million.
During his early school years, Kerry had problems academically, suffering from polio and dyslexia. At the time, there was no diagnoses of dyslexia in Australia, and the school authorities simply thought he was just unintelligent. Kerry’s athletic skills and size, however, more than made up for what he lacked in academic skills and he excelled at most sports, participating in boxing, football, rugby and cricket.
Kerry’s father was said to once describe him as “the family idiot”, which caused Kerry to strive harder in school. When he finished school he immediately went to work for his father at Consolidated Press where he was considered the black sheep of the family, due to his preference of chasing women, drinking and fast cars over hard work.
Kerry had an older brother, Clyde Packer (named after his paternal grandfather) who was expected to inherit the family’s business and estate, but in 1972, two years before his father’s death, Clyde had a falling out with his father and was summarily disinherited, which left Kerry to inherit the family fortune.
After his father’s death in 1974, Kerry’s independent business life began when he inherited control of the family’s controlling share in PBL which was valued at the time at about $100 million (Aus).
One of the things Kerry was best known for, aside from his business acquisitions was for the founding of World Series Cricket. Packer’s intention was to secure broadcasting rights for Australian cricket, an endeavor in which his was largely successful.
In the 1977 to 1978 season Kerry commissioned the leading Test cricketers for a series of matches and what were referred to as “Super-Tests”. These matches were played in colorful costumes, often under floodlights, with sole television rights held by ACP’s Channel Nine.
The tournament which was given called “Packers Circus” was promptly barred from all official cricket grounds in Australia, under pressure from the global cricket establishment, with the cricket board also placing a ban on any cricket player signing with Packer from playing official test cricket.
As the global cricket establishment aggressively opposed Packer in the courts, Kerry countered this opposition by retaining a team of the best 10 Senior Counsels in the UK with the stipulation that they were not allowed to take on any other clients during the court case. This had the effect of denying the establishment the best legal minds for their prosecution.
In the meantime, the London High Court declared the ban on Packer’s players by the Cricket Authorities illegal, leading to a public relations coup for Packer and gaining more exposure for the WSC. As His audience increased on Channel Nine, and more players joined the WSC, the Australian Cricket Board finally agreed to end the “cricket war” with an armistice signed on May 1979.
In 1987 Kerry Packer sold the Nine Network to Alan bond for the reported price of around $1 billion (AUS). Three years later he bought it back for a fraction of that cost at only $250 Million (AUS), as Bond’s empire was collapsing under his mismanagement. Packer was later reported as saying, “You only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime, and I’ve had mine”
At the 2006 Publish Broadcasting Limited Annual General Meeting, it was revealed by Kerry’s son James of the true complexities of the deal with Bond. According to James Packer, Kerry actually received $800 million (AUS) in cash, with the remaining $250 Million (AUS) left in Bond Media as subordinated debt. As Alan Bond’s empire was collapsing, Packer converted the subordinated debt into a 37% stake in bond media.
Kerry suffered as many as four heart attacks, and in 1990 while playing Polo, Kerry is reported to have suffered from a massive heart attack that left him “clinically dead” for almost six minutes. Paramedics were called and were able to revive Kerry who was then airlifted to St. Vincent’s private hospital where he received bypass surgery.
His recovery was due in large part to the fact that the ambulance responding to the call was fitted with a defibrillator, which was very uncommon at the time. Upon recovering from surgery, Packer donated a very large sum to the Ambulance Service of South Wales in order to facilitate in them equipping all ambulances with portable defibrillators, which are affectionately known as “packer whackers”.
Kerry suffered from a chronic kidney condition for many years as well. In 2000, his helicopter pilot, Nick Ross, donated one of his own kidneys to Kerry for a kidney transplant, making headlines at the time. The transplant was documented by an Australian TV program known as “Australian Story” which was produced by the public network ABC. One of the rare occasions in which packer allowed a media interview.
On December 26, 2005, Kerry Packer died of kidney failure, nine days after his 68th birthday. He died at his home in Sydney, Australia with his family at his side. As his health was failing, Kerry instructed the doctors to not try to prolong his life by any artificial means or attempting dialysis, saying he knew that he was dying and wanted to die with dignity. His death was announced to the world by Richard Wilkins on the Nine Network’s Today Program.
Kerry Packer was survived by his wife, Roslyn Packer, his two children, Gretel and James and two grandchildren Francesca and Ben, from Gretel’s first marriage to British financier Nick Barham, and William (born after his death on 2006) from her husband Shane Murray, who married Gretel just before Packer’s passing.