Felix Dennis obituary: My memories of this larger-than-life multimillionaire

One of the most colourful characters in the British media passes away unexpectedly

No one who ever met Felix Dennis could ever forget his laugh; an explosive expression of extraordinary energy and love of life that punctuated his every anecdote and seemed to come from somewhere below ground.

One of the most colourful characters in the British media, the publisher of The Week passed away yesterday at the age of 67 having frequently joked of his previous flirtations death.

After surviving a period of crack cocaine addiction, a critical thyroid illness and an operation for throat cancer, Dennis – who was briefly jailed in 1971 after the landmark obscenity trial relating to satirical magazine OZ – died on his Warwickshire estate in the company of his partner Marie-France Demolis.

He had given great thought to his legacy, which will extend across the worlds of ecology, visual arts, poetry, international education and magazine journalism. His greatest achievement, he believed, was the 2,500-acre Heart of England Forest. It was the equivalent of “five Hyde Parks”, he would say. Dennis personally planted the millionth broadleaf tree, an oak sapling, in September.

His Dennis Publishing empire, spanning 35 media brands including Auto Express and Viz, will come under the ownership of the Heart of England Forest charity and its profits will be used to plant more trees.

Dennis, who made his final fortune from the £121m sale of the international men’s magazine brand Maxim in 2007, split his time between his English manor house and the Caribbean island of Mustique, where he owned Mandalay, an Indonesian-style villa which he bought from David Bowie.

Never reclusive, Dennis was a regular singer at the Mustique Blues Festival and - in his capacity as St Vincent & The Grenadines' Honorary Consul in Warwickshire - recently brokered a deal to give every secondary schoolchild in the country a new laptop. He hoped that the project, which included support from computer giants Microsoft and Acer and finance from the Venezuelan government, would encourage similar initiatives in the developing world.

Dennis, who grew up in relative poverty in suburban London, employed 70 personal staff and traversed the grounds of his 600-acre estate on a Segway. He commissioned more than 50 bronze life-size statues, carefully positioned in a “Garden of Heroes & Villains”. One, of Lawrence Arabia on his favourite camel Jeddah, was visible from his kitchen table, silhouetted before the sunset.

Other bronzes depicted The Beatles, William Blake, Thomas Paine and – at the centre of a swirling maze made from yew – Dennis himself, dressed as a schoolgirl and waving a copy of OZ at the time of his conviction.

For all his subterranean laughter, Dennis was a serious man, a science obsessive and a digital pioneer. He was a disillusioned former Labour donor who published books on how to get rich. Over a bottle of his favourite Pouilly-Fume on the terrace of his Soho pied-a-terre, he once told me of the “endless” mistakes he had made in his business career.

During one spell in hospital, 13 years ago, he began writing poetry on a post-it note. The poem was the first of more than 1,500. His work – which revived old techniques including sestinas and sonnet cycles - was popular and he recently published his eighth volume of verse.

Audiences flocked to see him, reading his rhymes in his big tortoiseshell spectacles and flamboyant scarf. “How many poets do you know – and I know I am boasting – who can put 800 people in a theatre, charging £20?” he would ask. “Give me one that lives!”

Cancer got Dennis in the end, but he was laughing to the end about his perilous state of health and unerring ability to make money. Like Felix himself, the “Did I Mention the Free Wine? The Cut-Throat Tour” was a roaring success.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride