Billionaire financier Thomas H. Lee found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wound in NYC office: sources

Billionaire financier and investor Thomas H. Lee was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Manhattan office on Thursday morning, police sources said.

Cops responded to a 911 call at 767 Fifth Avenue — where Thomas H. Lee Capital, LLC is located on the sixth floor — at around 11:10 a.m., the sources said.

EMTs pronounced the 78-year-old businessman dead at the scene.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine the official cause of death.

“The family is extremely saddened by Tom’s death. While the world knew him as one of the pioneers in the private equity business and a successful businessman, we knew him as a devoted husband, father, grandfather, sibling, friend and philanthropist who always put others’ needs before his own,” Lee family friend and spokesperson Michael Sitrick said in a statement.

“Our hearts are broken. We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.”

Thomas H. Lee, 78, was found dead at his Manhattan office from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lee is credited with developing the leveraged buyout.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lee is credited with being one of the first financiers to purchase companies with money borrowed against the business being bought — what is now called a leveraged buyout.

He founded Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P. in 1974, serving as the chairman and CEO of the company and its predecessors.

In 1992, the private equity pioneer bought Snapple and sold it two years later for $1.7 billion, making 32 times his money.

But not everything always went according to plan.

In 1999, Lee led a deal for what was renamed Vertis Communications, the fifth largest North American printer. By 2006, when many peers had expanded to offer other services, such as marketing, it dropped to ninth since it did not have the money to do the same. Vertis filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

Lee and his longtime partners split in 2005 with Thomas H. Lee Partners being run by Scott Sperling, and Lee leaving to form Lee Equity Partners in 2006, where he served as chairman until his death Thursday.

An oceanfront mansion in the Hamptons owned by Lee in 2008.
An oceanfront mansion in the Hamptons owned by Lee in 2008.
Doug Kuntz

Thomas Lee
Lee once owned Snapple and made 32 times his investment.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lee also sat as a trustee for several Big Apple art organizations, including the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

A woman who answered the phone at Lee Equity Partners declined to comment Thursday afternoon.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or go to

Additional reporting by Josh Kosman