Howard Hughes was one of the fascinating people in American history. Howard Hughes was an engineer, pilot, and business tycoon. But, unfortunately, he also suffered from a fear of germs, phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) when he did not understand these types of mental illnesses as they are today. The following information describes the early life of Howard Hughes, his many professional accomplishments, and how OCD interfered with his life.
The Early Life of Howard Hughes
The Howard Hughes biography begins in Keokuk, Iowa, born on December 24, 1905. His father, Howard Hughes Sr., was a successful businessman and inventor. Geneastar.org describes how Hughes showed great aptitude at a young age, especially in technology and engineering. He even built a radio transmitter when he was only 11 years old.
His mother, Allene Hughes, died from medical complications in 1922. His father died two years later of a heart attack. These deaths motivated Hughes to establish a medical research laboratory later. Hughes inherited his father’s vast wealth and started in life with enough money to pursue his interests and invest in various projects.
His Successful Career and Professional Life
About Education states that Hughes went to Hollywood in 1925 and started making movies. The third movie he made, Two Arabian Knights, won an Oscar. The following are some of his many professional accomplishments throughout his lifetime.
- In 1930 he produced Hell’s Angels, a World War I epic motion picture.
- In the 1930s, he founded his own aircraft company.
- Hughes broke Lindbergh’s New York to Paris record and piloted around the globe.
- He won the All American Air Meet in Miami in 1934.
- He won several other aviation awards, including the Harmon Trophy and the Collier Trophy.
- In 1939 he bought a majority of TWA stock.
- Hughes amassed large quantities of real estate, especially in the Las Vegas area.
His Battle with Mental Illness
According to the American Psychological Association, Hughes struggled with a germ phobia, an extreme and overwhelming aspect of his life. As early as the 1930s, friends reported that he obsessively sorted his peas by size. In understanding what was wrong with Howard Hughes, an individual needs to realize how obsessive-compulsive disorders and phobia can control and dominate a person’s life.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists in London discusses that the film The Aviator does an excellent job of describing events throughout the life of Hughes that may have contributed to his OCD. His phobia of germs may have developed when he was still young and was heavily influenced by his mother’s fear of diseases.
According to the BBC, by the early 1940s, Hughes’s obsession with germs began to dominate his life. He was wealthy enough to pay his staff to carry out rituals related to his obsession. The following are some of the things Who required his staff to do.
- Before handing a spoon to Hughes, servants were required to wrap the utensil in tissue paper and cellophane tape.
- When removing his hearing aid cord from the bathroom, the staff required to use six to eight tissues to turn the bathroom doorknob.
- Up to fifteen tissues were required before opening cabinet doors in the bathroom.
Who Was Howard Hughes?
Even though his obsessive-compulsive symptoms fluctuated throughout his life, he seemed happiest and at ease when flying his planes. It’s been speculated that his symptoms became less apparent when he had to focus on flying the plane completely.
This has given researchers insight into treatment that focuses on patients becoming absorbed in an activity and therefore distracted and not focusing on their obsessions. His love for flying, ironically, may have contributed to his obsessions. Hughes was in a near-fatal plane crash in 1946 that likely triggered some of his fears and contributed to his eventual dependence on codeine.
The Legacy of Howard Hughes
Despite Howard Hughes’s mental illness struggles, he accomplished much in his life and founded a medical institute still operating today. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, was founded in 1953. By the mid-1980s, the institute was focusing on four general areas of research.
These included genetics, immunology, neuroscience, and cell biology. The Promenade at the Howard Hughes Center is located in Los Angeles and features an outdoor entertainment center, dining, and shops. In addition, it is part of a business campus that includes space for offices, retail, and health complexes.
What happened to Howard Hughes at the end of his life is a tragic case of extreme mental illness that went untreated. During the last several years of his life, Hughes went for days without sleep and existed on a very limited diet. He was so unrecognizable that He used fingerprints to identify his body. He died in Texas in April 1976. Hughes lived in a time when mental illness, particularly phobias and OCD, was not well understood.
Those who lived around this brilliant yet troubled man likely asked themselves many times, who is Howard Hughes? That question, while still complex, is easier to answer today in light of scientific and medical advancements. Today there are several treatment options available to treat phobias as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder.