The Amazing Life Of Microsoft Cofounder Paul Allen

bill gates mugshot

Everybody knows Bill Gates — Microsoft cofounder and longtime CEO, former richest man in the world (now #2), and named Time’s Man of the Year in 2005 for his work with the Gates Foundation. 

But fewer people know the other cofounder, Paul Allen. (He’s the guy in the bottom right.)

He’s a regular topic of conversation in Seattle; not so in New York, Silicon Valley, or beyond.

Odd since Forbes lists as Allen the 37th richest person in the world, with $13.5 billion.

With his billions, he’s invested in a lot of tech companies, but he’s also had a fascinating life.

While a lot of billionaires stay dead serious about their business, and dig into other serious realms like politics and philanthropy, Allen has never been afraid to have fun with his fortune.

He owns two professional sports teams, and part of a third

A lot of billionaire moguls own a professional sports team, but Allen is the only American with two: the NBA Portland Trail Blazers, which he bought in 1988, and the NFL Seattle Seahawks, which he bought in 1997 after Ken Behring threatened to move the team to California.

He's also part owner of the Seattle Sounders FC, which regularly sells out the 30,000-seat layout of Qwest Field used for soccer games.

He built a museum devoted to his rock and roll hero

In 2000, Allen opened the Experience Music Project, a rock and roll museum dedicated to his hero Jimi Hendrix and housed in a psychedelic Frank Gehry building that was meant to look like a melted guitar.

And when that got old, he opened a new one devoted to science fiction

The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame opened in 2004 in the same building as the EMP, featuring things like Captain Kirk's chair and Robby the Robot from the 1950s TV series 'Forbidden Planet.'

He doesn't just party with rock stars, he jams with them

Allen plays guitar, but not just with a bunch of pick-up musicians or guys from work. According to gossip in the Seattle music scene, he keeps several musicians on full-time retainer. When they get the call, they must be ready within 24 hours to fly anywhere in the world to jam with Allen and his rock star party guests like Eric Clapton.

He owns one of the biggest yachts in the world ...

It's called the Octopus, and it measures 414 feet and reportedly costs $20 million a year to maintain. He recently put another giant boat, the 303-foot Tatoosh, up for sale.

... Which has its own submarine

The Octopus has a submarine attached. It can sleep 10 people for up to two weeks. (This isn't it, obviously -- no pictures are available.)

He collects vintage WWII fighting planes

Here's a picture from 2008, when he opened his collection to the public.

He bought his favourite movie theatre when it was going to be demolished

He refurbished The Cinerama, a 70mm movie theatre, with state of the art sound and projection systems while preserving its vintage curved screen.

He founded an institute devoted to brain science

Allen funds tons of charitable projects, including The Allen Institute for Brain Science, which regularly releases research about the brain for free on the Web site

Check out that house!

Allen's home in the Seattle suburb of Mercer Island is a 10,000-square foot compound hidden in the trees with quarters for his mother and a regulation NBA size basketball court. That octagonal shape on top of the yacht is a helicopter landing pad.

He has completely changed the landscape of Seattle

Since the 1980s, Seattle has morphed from grungy fisherman's burg to Pacific Rim city of glass, and Allen's Vulcan Ventures has driven lots of the big changes. First he built a new headquarters in the International District, formerly one of the seedier parts of town. Then he lobbied heavily to get the city to replace the decrepit Kingdome next door and build a state of the art outdoor stadium instead.

In the last decade, Vulcan has led the transformation of the area south of Lake Union (shown here), which used to be a no-man's land of parking lots. In the last 10 years, it's been filled with glassy office buildings, fancy restaurants and hotels, and a streetcar. Even the Gates Foundation and Amazon are building their fancy new headquarters nearby.

He beat cancer.

Allen was diagnosed with a form of lymphatic cancer called Hodgkin's disease, and left Microsoft in 1983 to get treatment. He recovered fully.

Unfortunately, Vulcan revealed in 2009 that he was being treated for a different form of lymphatic cancer. There has been no further word on his condition, but he is working and attending Blazers and Seahawks games regularly.

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