The shock announcement that billionaire James Packer had resigned as a director of Crown Resorts for “personal reasons” is just the latest episode in the 50-year-old’s tumultuous personal life to play out in the public spotlight.
Despite being born into wealth and privilege — educated at Sydney’s exclusive Cranbrook School and raised at his family’s sprawling Bellevue Hill compound — Packer has long battled depression.
“Packer is suffering from mental health issues,” a spokesman for his private investment company Consolidated Press Holdings said. “At this time he intends to step back from all commitments.”
James Packer leaves the Crown Resorts AGM at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, on Thursday 26 October 2017. Photo / AAP
BeyondBlue today welcomed Packer’s public acknowledgement of his mental health struggles, saying it highlights that “no one is immune”.
From an early age Packer had a difficult relationship with his overbearing father, late media mogul Kerry Packer. In 2003, Good Weekend recounted how when he was 14, Kerry took James into the backyard to face down cricket balls launched at 190km/h from an American-made baseball launcher.
When his coach, former test cricketer Barry Knight, turned the speed down to 160km/h, Packer Snr “charged up to the machine” and turned the dial to maximum. “What are you trying to do, turn him into a wuss or what?” he yelled. “Come on, he’s a man! Turn it up a bit!”
In an emotional interview with Seven’s Sunday Night in 2013, Mr Packer said his father had “a good temper” and was a “larger-than-life character” who “could be terrifying”, but that their relationship ended on a good note.
Packer with Jodhi Meares and Mariah Carey. Photo / Instagram
“My father was an amazing man. No person is perfect and no father-son relationship is perfect,” he said. “He wanted me to live my life my way and never think about what he would have done or what he would have wanted to do.”
In the same interview, he revealed how he fell into depression, became a recluse and put on weight following the collapse of his telco business One.Tel in 2001, a year before his marriage to fashion designer Jodhi Meares ended.
“There is no doubt One.Tel was a terrible investment and something that I regret greatly,” he said. “I became depressed and I was emotionally exhausted and my marriage had broken up. I felt isolated, I felt like a failure. Obviously it was not a great time in my life.”
He said it was movie star Tom Cruise and Scientology that helped him get through. “Sometimes you need time and sometimes you need some new influences in your life and that was what happened to me at that point,” he said. “When I was at my lowest, Tom Cruise reached out to me. He believed in me when other people didn’t.”
In 2007, he married model and singer Erica Baxter and the couple had three children, Indigo, Jackson and Emmanuelle.
The marriage ended in 2013, but Packer revealed recently that the family had spent their first Christmas together since the breakup at their luxurious home in the US ski resort of Aspen. Packer told Fairfax it was “magical” and “the best Christmas I’ve ever had”.
Tom Cruise helped him in the wake of the One.Tel collapse. Photo / News Limited
He has barely spoken to best mate David Gyngell since 2014. Photo / News Corp Australia
Packer’s decision to leave the seven-year marriage was reportedly one of a “stack of” issues that led to a shocking 2014 brawl in a Bondi street with former Channel Nine chief executive David Gyngell, who had been best man at the couple’s wedding.
The lifelong best mates have reportedly barely spoken since the infamous punch-up. Packer has also sidelined other members of his inner circle, including fellow Cranbrook alum Matthew “Ched” Csidei, who moved to Europe after a falling out over the construction of the billionaire’s new superyacht.
Last year, he opened up to The Australian about his whirlwind 18-month romance and engagement with 47-year-old pop star Mariah Carey, which ended in a messy breakup in October.
He said over the previous year he had once again become a recluse, lost friends and put on weight. Packer, who paid the singer a settlement of somewhere between $6-13 million, described it as a “mistake”.
“I was at a low point in my personal life,” he said, speaking from his luxurious polo ranch an hour’s drive from Buenos Aires, Argentina. “She was kind, exciting and fun. Mariah is a woman of substance. But it was a mistake for her and a mistake for me.”
Mariah Carey and James Packer in 2015. Photo / Getty Images
In December, The Daily Telegraph reported Packer’s new girlfriend was a New York socialite and model named Kylie Lim, and that the couple had been spotted holding hands and embracing in Aspen.
On Wednesday, Packer was reported to be in the US while he deals with his mental health issues and it was unclear when he would return to Australia.
He may also choose to recuperate in Israel, where he owns a Tel Aviv apartment and mansion next door to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an exclusive gated community.
Packer, who took out Israeli citizenship in 2015, landed in hot water over his friendship with the PM, on whom he lavished gifts worth up to $US100,000 including accommodation, champagne, cigars and tickets to a Mariah Carey concert.
Israeli police last month recommended Netanyahu be indicted in two cases of alleged corruption. Packer was among those mentioned in the case, although there was no suggestion of wrongdoing on his part.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo / AP
“I love Israel, it is an amazing place and I’m incredibly lucky, it is one of the most interesting places in the world and I’ve been lucky to find it,” he told News Corp in 2015.
BeyondBlue said talking openly about mental health conditions, which affect around one in five Australians at some stage in their life, helped reduce stigma and countered outdated attitudes.
“Mental health issues can affect anyone at any time — no one is immune,” chief executive Georgie Harman said in a statement. “When anyone — including a high-profile person — is prepared to talk publicly about these matters it encourages others to have the conversation.
“Workplaces that support individuals taking time out to look after their mental health are creating environments that are not only healthier for everyone, but more productive.
“Leaders in all organisations face varying levels of stress. Ignored, these issues can develop into mental health conditions. Prioritising and actively managing our mental health and wellbeing can prevent illness. Seeking support and treatment early is crucial to recovery.”
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
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