LAS VEGAS (AP) — Melvin Dummar died never seeing the $156 million that he argued for decades that eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes unexpectedly bequeathed to him for rescuing him on a desert road and driving him nearly three hours to Las Vegas in 1967.
Dummar, whose story was depicted in the 1980 film “Melvin and Howard,” died Sunday under hospice care in rural Nevada, said Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly. He was 74.
His brother, Ray Dummar said his brother battled cancer for many years and quit referring to the Hughes estate and the handwritten document after losing his last legal battle 10 years ago.
The so-called “Mormon will” was said to have also named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as beneficiary of $156 million— a 1/16 share of the Hughes estate — when he died in 1976.
“I’ve been called everything from a crook to a forger,” Dummar told the AP in 2007 in Utah, where he once owned a gas station and later ran a business selling frozen meat, salmon and big pies.
“I don’t care what people say — as long as they get the facts straight,” he said.
Jurors and judges decided he lied. A U.S. appeals court in 2008 affirmed a Nevada state court jury’s decision 30 years earlier that found the will was a fake.
Dummar maintained that he found Hughes in late December 1967, face-down and bloody on a dirt road not far from a brothel near Lida, Nevada, and drove him nearly 190 miles (306 kilometers) to Las Vegas before giving him some pocket change and dropping him off behind the Sands Hotel.
Dummar’s story about finding an unshaved Hughes with long stringy hair and baggy clothes was as bizarre as Hughes, an aviation and movie mogul and business tycoon who spent his final years in seclusion, his hair and fingernails grown long.
“On the way to Las Vegas, he told me who he was, but I didn’t believe him,” Dummar told the AP in 2006. “I thought he was just a bum or a prospector or something.”
Dummar said he later came to believe it was Hughes, and that about eight years later a handwritten will was delivered to his gas station in Utah.
Dummar said it was addressed to the president of the Mormon church. He said he steamed it open to read the contents before taking it to the church’s headquarters and leaving it on a secretary’s desk.