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Jennings Osborne, philanthropist with the dazzling lights, dies at 67

By Arkansas Online

This article was originally published July 27, 2011 at 3:53 p.m. Updated July 27, 2011 at 6:24 p.m.


Jennings Osborne is seen in 1996.

Remembering Jennings Osborne

Jennings Osborne was a generous man who shared his wealth and life with people both in and around the state of Arkansas. Click here to leave your memories, stories or condolences.

— Jennings Osborne, the philanthropist whose extravagant Christmas light displays drew international attention but also a court battle, died Wednesday after complications following heart surgery. He was 67.

Family spokesperson David Bazzel said Osborne passed at 3:30 p.m. surrounded by family and friends.

The Fort Smith native with the larger than life personality often called himself “the luckiest guy in the world" for all that he was able to do with his wealth, which he made in the medical testing business.

The Osborne family released a statement on Jennings Osborne's passing.

"My father was an amazing man who all my life showed what a big heart he had for everyone, young and old and regardless of background or wealth," Osborne's daughter, Breezy, said in a statement. "Sadly, my father's big heart finally gave out. But knowing my "Dadoo", there will be fireworks at the gates of Heaven. We want to thank everyone from Arkansas and across the country for all their well wishes and prayers. It meant so much to my dad, me and my mom."

Osborne was known for his flashy light displays as well as the barbecues he hosted for Arkansas Razorback fans, emergency workers and politicians alike.

"He's been bigger than life," Bazzel said. "He's one of the most unique characters, not just in Arkansas, but if you look across the country, and see someone who's successful financially and gives so much back to the average person. He gave it back in so many ways."

But not everyone was happy with his grandiose displays of giving back to the community. In 1994, several of his neighbors took him to the Arkansas Supreme Court over his glittering Christmas display that had more than 3 million lights. As a result, the Christmas lights were relocated to Disney World and Graceland, among other places.

In a statement sent out Wednesday, Governor Mike Beebe expressed his sympathies with the passing of Osborne.

"With the passing of Jennings Osborne, Arkansas has lost one of our highest-profile philanthropists," he said. "He brought comfort and entertainment to countless people, whether feeding disaster victims, donating fireworks, throwing unparalleled tailgate parties or lighting up Disney World. While a larger-than-life public figure, Jennings was also a kind and soft-spoken man, who always shared his financial success with others."

He was born William Jennings Bryan Osborne Jr. on Sept. 21, 1943, in Fort Smith.

He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Mitzi, and daughter, Breezy.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Thank you for coming to the Web site of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We're working to keep you informed with the latest breaking news.


Comments on: Jennings Osborne, philanthropist with the dazzling lights, dies at 67

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YesterdaysGone says... July 27, 2011 at 4:27 p.m.

Sadly I never had the opportunity to know the man, but I was able to say "Thank You" a few times for all the community things he did for Little Rock. I bet he was fun to hang out with. Not sure why the article had to bring up a negative. That was uncalled for. Guess the writter didn't want us to think too highly of Mr. Osborne. I do regardless.

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dumblikeme says... July 27, 2011 at 4:44 p.m.

If you're referring to "a negative" as the lawsuit that his neighbors filed, that was a major event that brought more attention to him nationally. Most people don't see that event as "a negative" mark on Jennings Osborne, but instead, an unfortunate situation that he turned around and made the best of.

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ToTheLeft says... July 27, 2011 at 4:50 p.m.

I saw the "negative" as the grinchy neighbors who ruined it for everyone else. IMHO.

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Taxman247 says... July 27, 2011 at 4:55 p.m.

Sad the community lost a great humanitarian. And I agree about the lawsuit, a loss for Little Rockians to see lights and Jennings used it in a positive way and in the end was still a good guy. All the neighbors will be remembered as the ones that stopped the candy canes and lights for all to see including the International Space station.

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gaylerey says... July 27, 2011 at 5 p.m.

I agree with KatOne completely. The grinchy neighbors took away one of the best Christmas events in our family...driving to see the lights! Jennings WAS larger than life. He gave back, again and again, and so many with financial security never do. He leaves behind a wonderful family who has always promoted Random Acts of Kindness. I will always be proud to say I knew of him and met him and was fortunate to have done so.

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hah406 says... July 27, 2011 at 5:23 p.m.

Truely a sad loss for the State of Arkansas. Rarely has this state seen someone with so much give so much back, whether through his holiday celebrations, Razorback tailgates, or honoring of those in public service such as firefighters and police officers. We have all lost a real state hero today.

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quiet4us2 says... July 27, 2011 at 5:38 p.m.

Who ?

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YesterdaysGone says... July 27, 2011 at 5:41 p.m.

There go the fireworks! Sort of kidding but wouldn't it be nice for people in Central Arkansas to set up a "Osborne Family Fireworks Fund". Not that they need it but I was thinking along the lines that we could all participate in a random act of kindness that way in memory of Mr. Osborne and keep the Fireworks going for future years. Just a thought and it would require some public figure to get behind the idea.

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PaulMcFarland says... July 27, 2011 at 5:43 p.m.

I worked for Mr. Osborne for a time as a nurse in his research center. He treated everyone the same. From the most important to the least. He had kindness and attention to share with everyone he encountered. He was a fine man and I will always remember him. My deepest sympathy to the family.

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DavidHarten says... July 27, 2011 at 5:57 p.m.

Thanks for commenting guys. It's great to see he helped and positively affected so many people. We also have set up a page where people can share their stories, thoughts and condolences of Mr. Osborne. Click on the link in the box near the top left-hand side of the page and leave you comments. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

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