Gunter Sachs was a generous bon viveur whose main contribution to St Moritz was bankrolling the bobsleigh, according to a local newspaper editor.
Gian Andreossi, founder and editor of INN, a magazine for visitors to the Engadine valley, told swissinfo.ch that apart from the odd midnight car race on the frozen lake, Sachs will be fondly remembered in the exclusive alpine resort.
The German-born photographer and multi-millionaire industrialist, best known for his playboy lifestyle and brief marriage to French actress Brigitte Bardot, committed suicide on Saturday. He was 78.
In a statement released on Sunday by his family at his request, Sachs said he chose to end his life after concluding that he was suffering from an incurable degenerative disease affecting his memory and ability to communicate.
The statement provided no details on the timing or circumstances of his death, but police said Sachs had shot himself at his home in the exclusive Swiss resort of Gstaad.
Sachs’s glamorous lifestyle helped give St Moritz its reputation as a jet-set resort. He lived for years in a tower suite of the village’s Palace Hotel. He became a Swiss citizen in 1976.
swissinfo.ch: St Moritz has attracted wealthy tourists since the end of the 19th century. Was Gunter Sachs just another rich visitor or did he actually change the resort in some way?
Gian Andreossi: He was not primarily rich but primarily a very special person – he wasn’t an exhibitionist but someone who wanted to show off his enjoyment of life in public. A very pleasant bon viveur. He brought a lot of friends and partners and people who had the same life philosophy. They were like Lausbuben [rascals, scamps] – not totally grown-up boys enjoying life at its best and letting other people take part.
But what’s very important is that he was very closely involved with the Bobsleigh Club, the St Moritz Tobogganing Club and the Cresta run.
swissinfo.ch: He was president of the Bobsleigh Club for more than 40 years…
G.A.: To be frank, without him, bobsleigh in St Moritz would definitely not be what it is. He financed the very expensive infrastructure of the bob sport for many, many years. At the end of the year, when the bobsleigh club checked its balance and saw the deficit, it was Gunter Sachs who paid it.
swissinfo.ch: Was bobsleigh his greatest contribution to St Moritz?
G.A.: I would say so. That’s also why at the top, at the start of the Olympia bob run, it’s called the Gunter Sachs lodge. This will remain. There there’s also the Dracula Club, which he founded [in 1974].
swissinfo.ch: The Dracula Club?
G.A.: The Dracula Club really reflects Gunter Sachs. Dracula is a sort of mysterious figure but is very much related to the enjoyment of life. And [Sachs] founded this club, with its bat logo. Today it’s still the most popular and most exclusive club of St Moritz. It’s now run by his son, Rolf.
Gunter and Rolf both went to school at the Lyceum Alpinum [a private boarding school] in Zuoz.
swissinfo.ch: How do you think he will be remembered?
G.A.: He was a smiley and pleasant person who enjoyed life but not in an arrogant way, but just having everyone participate. He didn’t just enjoy life himself – it was always a group affair.
He was generous and he brought people to St Moritz who enjoyed this lifestyle together at the Palace and also, at the time there was the King’s Club [a nightclub in the Palace Hotel]. There were also lots of English people of course and quite a few crazy bob and Cresta riders! There’s still a cup which he donated to the Cresta Club. Last winter he came to the ceremony at St Moritz to present the buttons to the winners. Buttons for a blazer.
swissinfo.ch: Do you think the St Moritz tourist office was happy about the resort being seen as a hotbed of hedonism?
G.A.: I think the Palace Hotel made its own policy. The Palace enjoyed [Sachs’s presence] and I think the tourist office did too – mainly thanks to the bob, because the bob sport is quite important for St Moritz and it’s so costly that without Gunter Sachs… I’m sure they were very grateful.
But they didn’t like everything he did. For example they might have been less impressed when [Sachs and friends] drove their English cars with powerful engines across the frozen lake at midnight, but he was such a charming person that this was part of the extraordinary life which was going on at the time in St Tropez, Portofino, London, Paris and Cannes.
Many people will write many crazy stories about Gunter Sachs, but in the end, St Moritz should be very thankful for what he did.
Gunter Sachs was born into a wealthy industrialist family in 1932, and used his inheritance and business acumen to fund a glamorous lifestyle that fascinated many in post-war Germany of the 1960s and 70s.
German tabloids reported extensively on his affairs with celebrities and friendships with artists such as Andy Warhol.
Sachs also made a name for himself as a photographer, documentary filmmaker and art collector. He was also passionately interested in astrology. Swiss business magazine Bilanz estimated his fortune at SFr300-400 million ($340-$455 million).
Sachs is survived by Bardot, to whom he was married from 1966-1969, his third wife Mirja Larsson and their sons Christian and Alexander, and son Rolf from his first marriage.end of infobox