H. Wayne Huizenga, Builder of the Blockbuster Video Chain, Dies at 80

Wayne Huizenga - 2008 Baltimore Ravens v Miami Dolphins Game - Getty - H 2018
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He engineered the sale of the now-crippled business to Sumner Redstone's Viacom for $8.4 billion in 1994.

H. Wayne Huizenga, a college dropout who built Blockbuster Entertainment into a thriving business that eventually went to Viacom in a $8.4 billion deal before its ultimate demise, has died. He was 80.

Huizenga died Thursday night at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after a decades-long battle with cancer, Bob Henninger, executive vice president for Huizenga Holdings, told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

Huizenga also was founding owner of baseball's Florida Marlins and the NHL's Florida Panthers — expansion teams that played their first games in 1993. He bought the NFL's Miami Dolphins and their stadium for $168 million in 1994 from the children of founder Joe Robbie but had sold all three teams by 2009.

The Marlins won the 1997 World Series, and the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, but Huizenga's beloved Dolphins never reached a Super Bowl while he owned the team.

"If I have one disappointment, the disappointment would be that we did not bring a championship home," Huizenga said shortly after he sold the Dolphins to New York real estate billionaire Stephen Ross. "It's something we failed to do."

In 1987, Huizenga, who had co-founded and made millions from the trash-disposal company Waste Management Inc., entered the video rental business when he acquired several Blockbuster stores. At the time, there were about 20 locations in the chain.

Huizenga and associate John Melk used expansion methods pioneered by McDonald's founder Ray Kroc and their own experience with Waste Management to rapidly grow Blockbuster. They snapped up competitors like Sound Warehouse and Music Plus and took over family-run businesses, and by 1994 the chain had annual revenue of $4 billion and some 3,600 locations, each containing thousands of prerecorded videocassettes. (It had 9,000 U.S. stores at its peak.)

Blockbuster under Huizenga in 1993 also had purchased a 71 percent interest in Spelling Entertainment Group, run by famed TV producer Aaron Spelling, and with that deal came a 37 percent stake in Republic Pictures.

In 1994, Sumner Redstone's Viacom purchased Blockbuster for its strong cash flow in a complicated $8.4 billion transaction, then borrowed against the video company to raise money in its ultimately successful bid to acquire Paramount Communications. The combined Viacom-Blockbuster-Paramount had annual revenue of about $7.3 billion.

Viacom separated from Blockbuster in 2004, and six years the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the beginning of the end. "On occasion, you make a mistake. But I don't want to make too many," Redstone told The Hollywood Reporter in December 2013.

The last handful of remaining stores in the chain have closed or are closing this year.

"Wayne was a true video industry pioneer," the Entertainment Merchants Association said in a statement. "During his tenure at Blockbuster, the blue and yellow stores became the symbol of video rental, and "Make It a Blockbuster Night" entered the lexicon. Whether you worked for him, competed with him (as many of us did and lost) or simply rented movies in his stores, you have to respect his impact on the in-home movie experience."

Starting with one garbage truck in 1968, Huzienga built Waste Management into a Fortune 500 company. He purchased independent sanitation engineering companies, and by the time he took the company public in 1972, he had completed the acquisition of 133 small-time haulers. By 1983, Waste Management was the largest company of its kind in the U.S.

In 1996, Huzienga formed AutoNation, the nation's largest automotive retailer, and built it into a Fortune 500 company. Forbes estimated his wealth at $2.5 billion in 2013.

Huizenga was a favorite with South Florida sports fans as he went on a spending spree to build a veteran team that won the World Series in the franchise's fifth year.

But his popularity plummeted when he ordered the roster dismantled after that season. He was frustrated by poor attendance and his failure to swing a deal for a new ballpark built with taxpayer money.

Many South Florida fans never forgave him for breaking up the championship team. Huizenga drew boos when introduced at Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino's retirement celebration in 2000 and kept a lower public profile after that.

In 2009, Huizenga said he regretted ordering the Marlins' payroll purge.

"We lost $34 million the year we won the World Series, and I just said, 'You know what, I'm not going to do that,'" Huizenga said. "If I had it to do over again, I'd say, 'OK, we'll go one more year.'"

He sold the Marlins in 1999 to John Henry and sold the Panthers in 2001, unhappy with rising NHL player salaries and the stock price for the team's public company.

Huizenga's first sports love was the Dolphins — he had been a season-ticket holder since their first season in 1966. But he fared better in the NFL as a businessman than as a sports fan.

He turned a nifty profit by selling the Dolphins and their stadium for $1.1 billion, nearly seven times what he paid to become sole owner. But he knew the bottom line in the NFL is championships, and his Dolphins perennially came up short.

Harry Wayne Huizenga was born in the Chicago suburbs on Dec. 29, 1937, to a family of garbage haulers. He began his business career in 1962 in Pompano Beach, Florida, driving a garbage truck from 2 a.m. to noon each day for $500 a month.

One customer successfully sued Huizenga, saying that in an argument over a delinquent account, Huizenga injured him by grabbing his testicles — an allegation Huizenga always denied.

"I never did that. The guy was a deputy cop. It was his word against mine, a young kid," he told Fortune magazine in 1996.

Huizenga was a five-time recipient of Financial World magazine's "CEO of the Year" award and was the Ernst & Young "2005 World Entrepreneur of the Year."

Regarding his business acumen, Huzienga said: "You just have to be in the right place at the right time. It can only happen in America."

In 1960, he married Joyce VanderWagon. Together they had two children, Wayne Jr. and Scott. They divorced in 1966. Wayne married his second wife, Marti Goldsby, in 1972. She died in 2017.