es. Vienna, 23 October, 22
He was described as the “most famous unknown” in Austria, Dieter Mateschitz – whose death at 78 was mysteriously kept secret for two weeks – used his phenomenal wealth as the marketing genius and co-owner of Red Bull energy drink to build both a sporting but also a powerful and influential media empire. He was accused on the Left of allowing space to far-right figures, and according to a Viennese journalist who proposed to write a book about him Mateschitz threatened to have his knees broken by hired Moscow hitmen.
His known charitable payments include the Wings for Life foundation which he co-founded in July 2004 after Hannes Kinigadner‘s tragic motorcyle accident to fund world-class research into treating spinal cord injuries, a number of which resulted from spectacular Red Bull stunts.
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He was one of the richest people in Austria – according to Forbes magazine, worth 25bn €.
In the 1980s, as a representative in Thailand working for a toothpaste company, he got to know the energy drinks market and showed is genius for marketing. Together with Thai partners from the Yoovidhya clan, he helped the Red Bull drink, which contained a lot of caffeine and sugar, achieve worldwide success.
Along with the ever more popular tins of Red Bull which quickly made him rich, he also sold an urban lifestyle. He invested heavily in sports projects that also promoted his drinks: a successful Formula 1 racing team, spectacular air shows, daredevil athletes who jumped off the famous bridge in Mostar. In 2012, the Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner even dared to jump out of the stratosphere – a sporting and advertising success broadcast worldwide.
In addition to hotels and restaurants, Mateschitz also founded several media companies such as the TV station Servus TV, Servus Magazine, the research platform Addendum, and the Red Bulletin.
As a media mogul he proceeded with ruthless determination, in the manner of British media tycoons. When a works council at Servus TV was to be formed at the station in 2016, “Didi” (as he was known) immediately threatened to close it down. After the staff surrendered, broadcasting continued. Mateschitz also shut down the media platform Addendum without warning.
In 2017, the otherwise media-shy Mateschitz gave a rarely granted interview to the Kleine Zeitung, in which he outed himself as a right-winger and Trump admirer. He criticized the “opinion dictates of the politically correct” by an “intellectual elite,” which he naturally located on the left.
He was harshly critical of the “failure to cope with the wave of refugees” in 2015. And although he profited handsomely from the EU single market – the EU Commission even pushed for the approval of Red Bull in France, where the secret formula was deemed a health hazard – he spread plenty of EU scepticism through his media.
Servus TV, also known for spectacular nature films, also gave a platform to right-wing radicals. It recently devoted much airtime to vaccination sceptics and conspiracy theorists. Servus TV director Ferdinand Wegscheider was allowed to present his right-wing ideas in his weekly programmme Der Wegscheider. And Martin Sellner, leader of the far-right Identitären movement and figurehead of the New Right in Germany, was also a frequent guest on Servus TV talk shows.
Mateschitz had abandoned his economics studies after 20 semesters, but liked to cultivate a homely touch: he bought and renovated old hotels and inns – for example in the Ausseerland region or around the Formula 1 circuit he revived in Zeltweg, which was of course named after the energy drink.
The private TV Puls 4, his rival in private tv, recalled in its obituary a carious made to the profil business journalist Michael Nikbakhsh. When the latter proposed to write his biography, Mateschitz told him that he would no longer be safe “as long as a perforated kneecap costs 500 dollars from Moscow hitmen”. The billionaire later apologized, but the threat suggested a certain way of doing things.
Journalist Wolfgang Fürweger, who wrote the first biography, The Red Bull Story. The Incredible Success of Dietrich Mateschitz, was banned from the company despite his positive reportage: “Mr. Mateschitz couldn’t control the content, and a lack of control just doesn’t sit well with him and his people.” Most recently, he made a secret of his serious illness. Even the news of his death was published late: he allegedly passed away at the beginning of October.
The Mateschitz fortune will be shared by his 39-year-old partner Marion Feichtner and a 29-year-old son from a previous relationship. Since inheritance tax has been abolished in Austria, they can look forward to a tax-free inheritance.
- Plus 4 tv, Austria: Mateschitz portrait (video)
- Le Monde (Eng): obituary
- AP: obituary
- Condolences of the Formula 1 world