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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jennings Osborne dead at 67

Posted By on Wed, Jul 27, 2011 at 4:09 PM

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Several sources reporting now that Little Rock businessman and philanthropist Jennings Osborne has died following a long illness.

Osborne suffered a heart attack in August 2010, and had been hospitalized since undergoing heart surgery in April.

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Here's a short bio of Osborne. Though he made his fortune in medical research, Osborne was probably best known for the ostentatious Christmas light displays at his Cantrell Road home, which began in 1986 after his daughter asked him to decorate their home for the holidays. By 1993, the display had grown to include animated figures and over 3 million red lights, which caused bumper to bumper traffic jams. Osborne's neighbors eventually sued and won — a case he tried to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court — forcing Osborne to move his light display elsewhere, including Graceland, Disney World and cities around the state.

After losing the light display at his home, Osborne turned his fortunes to other philanthropic pursuits, including holding huge barbecues for the public and sponsoring annual fireworks displays. A large brass eagle the Osborne family donated to the city stands on President Clinton Avenue, near the entrance to the Clinton Presidential Center.

He is survived by his wife, Mitzi and his daughter, Allison "Breezy" Osborne-Wingfield.


SIDENOTE: Our newsroom remembrances of Jennings bring to mind a story from back in 2004, when the Times published a cover story about Mt. Holly Cemetery. In the story, reporter Leslie Newell Peacock mentioned the fact that Osborne was at the time interested in being laid to rest in the storied burying ground.

As Leslie wrote back then: "Seven years ago, Mount Holly made 60 plots available in previously unplotted land in the northwest corner, 'and they went like gangbusters,' [sexton Steve] Adams said. On Thursday of last week, 17 plots remained. On Friday, Adams sold seven of them, five to one buyer alone. There were rumors last fall that Little Rock Christmas light czar Jennings Osborne was considering buying some plots in Mount Holly. Some folks blew a fuse, fearing an eternal electric light show at the venerable cemetery, and wrote the board to that effect. As it turned out, he did consider a purchase, but did not buy any plots - there were too few for a mausoleum - and Worthen, whose board never met with Osborne, was a little put off by the reaction to the rumors. Mount Holly welcomes all comers."

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