Stanley Marsh 3, businessman and artist, dies at 76

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Businessman-artist-philanthropist Stanley Marsh 3, perhaps best known outside Amarillo for the “Cadillac Ranch” art installation along Interstate 40, died Tuesday, a family attorney said.

Mr. Marsh had been incapaciated by a series of strokes. He was 76.

At the end of his life, his reputation as patron of modern art and as a successful businessman and philanthropist was shadowed by accusations that he molested teenage boys in his later years.

In 2012, 10 suits were filed accusing him of paying two teenage boys, ages 15 and 16 at the time, for sexual acts. He settled the lawsuits the next year but was indicted two months later on charges that he sexually assaulted six teenagers in recent years. Mr. Marsh denied the charges and vowed to fight them in court.

Because of his illness, the cases were not tried, the Amarillo Globe-News reported.

An heir to his family’s oil-and-gas fortune, Mr. Marsh was a quirky but successful banker and TV executive. His given name was Stanley Marsh III, but he changed it to “3” because he thought the former was pretentious.

He’ll be remembered for the often-photographed Cadillac Ranch, where 10 graffiti-splattered Cadillacs are anchored nose-down in the ground at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt as a memorial to the classic cars, the Globe-News reported.

Mr. Marsh commissioned the Ant Farm, a radical art and design collective, to build it in 1974. The cars, acquired from junkyards, private owners and used car lots, were moved a mile west in 1997, and over the years were repainted.

The display gained national attention and quickly became a tourist attraction. Saturday is the 40th anniversary of its unveiling.

Mr. Marsh’s other creations include a mesa painted to look as if it were floating and a football- field-size pool table hidden in the Panhandle terrain that could be seen only from the air. Hundreds of his mock road signs popped up in Amarillo neighborhoods, bearing such slogans as “Big Deal” and “My Grandmother Can Whip Your Grandmother.”

But he’d been pulling pranks in Amarillo long before.

“By nature I’m an introvert, and I’m a shy person,” Mr. Marsh once said. “When I do these stunts, which cause a great deal of attention, I can kind of shift gears and act like a master of ceremonies.”

Mr. Marsh was born Jan. 31, 1938, in Amarillo. His father and grandfather made their fortunes in the oil and gas business, but Mr. Marsh didn’t follow in their footsteps.

His creative bent began as a child and included carving swords and painting with watercolors. He said someone once told him that made him an artist.

“It’s a lot better to be an artist than to be just somebody who makes things, so I said, ‘Of course I’m an artist.’ I'll take that any day,” he told The Associated Press in 2009. “Artists are great people.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and master’s in American civilization from the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Wendy Marsh, adopted five children and lived in Toad Hall, a 300-acre estate on the outskirts of Amarillo.

When he returned to Amarillo after college in the late 1960s, he quickly impressed those who knew him as a prankster with his business skills by heading a local bank. Then in 1967, using some of his family’s money, Mr. Marsh bought KVII-TV and turned it into the city’s top-rated television station within a few years.

Mr. Marsh retired and sold the station in 2002, but he continued to go to his office and pursue his artistic endeavors.

Mr. Marsh once invited Amarillo citizens taller than 6 feet 4 to a reception for a group of Japanese businessmen to ensure that the myth of the tall Texan ensued.

In 1975, Mr. Marsh showed up at the Washington bribery trial of Treasury Secretary John Connally, a Texan accused in a milk-price scandal, dressed in a fringe Western jacket and carrying a pail of cow dung.

Despite such antics, Mr. Marsh bristled at suggestions that he was eccentric and his pursuits childish. He said he considered himself mature and responsible, a “leader of men who is doing what I want to do, and more people should be like me.” But some felt he went too far.

In 1994, Mr. Marsh was accused of locking a local teenager in a chicken coop and threatening him with a hammer for stealing one of the hundreds of diamond-shaped street signs he’d placed around town, some of which said, “Steal This Sign.” Marsh later pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors.

Although his art and shenanigans were often public, Mr. Marsh said he never wanted to be figured out. In 1994, he said he wanted his epitaph to read in part: “Thanks, everybody. I had a good time.”

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