Ron Rice, creator of Hawaiian Tropic lotion, dies at 81

Ron Rice, a high school chemistry teacher who had been trained to explore for oil, but instead made a fortune by concocting coconut suntan lotion in a 20-gallon trash can in his garage and seductively calling it Hawaiian Tropic, died in May. 19 in Daytona Beach, Fla. He was 81 years old.

His death, in a hospital, was announced by his family on Facebook. No cause was specified.

Rice, a very poor boy from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, fell in love with the ocean shores of Florida during a family vacation in the 1940s. Years later, after a visit to Hawaii, he was inspired to take Coppertone, a leading brand of suntan lotion, promised naturally pale sunbathers like him that they would get a tan, not burn, if they slathered themselves with the product’s zinc oxide, alkyl benzoate, isopropyl palmitate and other ingredients.

After graduating from college in 1964, he moved to Florida, taught for eight years (in fleeting positions at seven schools, but long enough to get a deferment of service) and worked part-time as a football coach and lifeguard, positions well taken care of for his height of 6 feet 3 inches.

In addition, he mixed countless combinations of coconut oil, exotic fruits, aloe, avocado, kukui, mineral oil, and cocoa butter until they combined into a lotion that some 11-year-olds he recruited from the neighborhood poured out of that foundational garbage. the can in bottles labeled Hawaiian Tropic and first sold on the beach on July 20, 1969. (Coconuts were not native to Hawaii and were probably originally grown on islands in Southeast Asia, but the name Tropic Tan already had rights From author).

In 2006, after years of shameless promotion through celebrity-judged beauty pageants (Donald J. Trump met his second wife, Marla Maples, when she was entering the Hawaiian Tropic pageant), auto racing (the name of the company was in a Porsche driven by Paul Newman at Le Mans in 1979), and clever and not-so-subtle placements in movies and TV shows, along with various other stunts, sales of the Hawaiian Tropic had exceeded $110 million, which made it the second largest sun care company. in the world.

A year later, Rice sold it to Playtex Products for $83 million.

“A tan is sex,” he once said. “That’s what it all boils down to. Sex and vanity.

Ronald Joseph Rice was born on September 1, 1940, in Ashville, North Carolina, the son of Clyde and Pauline (Crosby) Rice.

The family lived on a mountain. From the time Ron was 5 years old, he would join his brothers at their stall selling apples, cider, honey, grapes and Christmas wreaths to supplement his father’s income as a civil engineer.

He earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where, according to various accounts, he was studying to explore for oil and uranium, and to be a teacher.

“I used to teach school and make $4,300 a year. Four thousand of that was the teaching part, $300 was the training part,” she once told a television interviewer. “I did that for eight years. I could go back to that if I had to, but I’m not saying I want to go back.”

“It’s fun,” he said of his smooth, Hawaiian Tropic-lubricated lifestyle, “and there’s a lot of extra toys involved, and a lot of fun times, and I drink some better quality wine, of course, but I’m still a kid. field.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Rice’s 12,000-square-foot home in Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona Beach and not far from the lifeguard post where he once worked, housed a nightclub and an indoor and outdoor pool. He owned an 80-foot yacht and a Lamborghini that he loaned to Burt Reynolds for the movie “The Cannonball Run” (1981).

As a reminder of his roots and testament to his success, Mr. Rice placed the trash can in which he had perfected the Hawaiian Tropic formula in his living room. He had it silver.

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