From the outside it would appear James Packer has had it all: three nervous breakdowns, two broken marriages and one terribly conflicted relationship with his enormous inherited wealth.
But the casino mogul who has battled personal and professional demons for decades looks to be getting his life back on track – albeit while being forced to confront all the pain of his past.
Just two years ago Packer, who is worth an estimated AUD$5.2billion (US$3.7 billion), had broken up with pop superstar Mariah Carey, was drinking a bottle of vodka a day and believed he was going broke.
He was embroiled in political and commercial scandals in China and Israel, engaged in a bitter family dispute over his father’s estate and had walked away from the global casino stage.
All of it has been laid bare in a raw new biography, The Price Of Fortune: The Untold Story Of Being James Packer by journalist Damon Kitney.
Over: In the midst of billionaire James Packer’s struggles with drinking and medicating in October 2016, his engagement to pop star Mariah Carey also came to an abrupt end
Packer did not read the manuscript of The Price of Fortune before its publication and has watched from the United States as intimate details of his personal life have been splashed around the world in recent weeks.
Author Kitney denies the subject of his book is unhappy with the result of their work but describes the process for Packer as ‘painful’.
‘There’s no falling out,’ he tells Daily Mail Australia.
‘It’s been a painful period for him. Because he didn’t want to read the manuscript, reading the extracts has been painful.
”Some of the things in there are very confronting: the stuff about alcohol, the stuff about his mental health and prescription drugs.
‘I’m not surprised it’s been painful for him.’
For the first time Packer delves into the private story behind his public revelation in March of the mental health issues which forced him to resign from the board of the Crown casino company he owns and loves.
How the life of Australia’s most famous billionaire spiralled to the depths of pills and alcohol, a mental breakdown and a tumultuous relationship with the world’s biggest pop star… and why Scientology, Kerry Stokes and his new glamorous girlfriend saved his life
When Packer checked himself into a mental health facility that month Kitney was briefly concerned The Price of Fortune might never be published.
‘I was quite concerned that I may not have a book,’ Kitney says.
‘He went off the air and I didn’t know what was going to happen.’
Those fears were allayed when Packer sent Kitney a note. ‘We had a deal,’ the billionaire wrote. ‘I’m 100 per cent committed to this project and finishing it.’
‘He never, ever said “I don’t think I can do this”,’ Kitney says.
‘He told me how painful it was and how difficult it was but not once did he say “I’m having second thoughts”.’
James Packer addresses his punch-up with former best mate David Gyngell in the book. ‘I was physically assaulted outside my house,’ he says. ‘[It] was an open-and-shut-case of assault.’
In 2016, Packer’s life was spiralling out of control, with a daily diet of vodka and powerful prescription pills pushing him to a third nervous breakdown, as his businesses seemingly collapsed around him.
By October that year, the extent of Packer’s torment was obvious even to strangers. One psychiatrist pointedly asked him: ‘Are you trying to kill yourself?’
It took a bitter breakup from singer Carey, his resignation from Crown Resorts and many other lows before a deeply depressed Packer eventually turned his life around in 2018, checking into a AUD$5,000 (USD$3,530) a night US rehabilitation centre.
James Packer kisses his then wife Erica at the Australian Open in 2008. The pair remains close and Packer has described their three young children as the greatest priority in his life
‘SUICIDAL’ AND SAVED BY TOM CRUISE AND SCIENTOLOGY
Packer’s first major business failure occurred in 2001 with the collapse of telecommunications company One.Tel, a disaster which cost his family hundreds of millions of dollars and left those closest to him fearing he would take his own life.
‘He was absolutely suicidal at times,’ friend and former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett told Kitney.
Packer fled to the United States with his then-wife Jodhi Meares and was introduced to the controversial Church of Scientology by Hollywood actor and high-profile church advocate Tom Cruise.
Some of the billionaire’s friends believe that Scientology ultimately ‘saved James’ during this difficult chapter of his life.
However, Packer’s interest in Scientology didn’t last – and neither did his friendship with Tom Cruise.
While it’s not known why the two men fell out, Packer has described the Top Gun star as being a loyal friend at his time of need and credited him with ‘putting him back together.’
‘It’s his choice that we aren’t friends anymore,’ he says.
‘He was absolutely suicidal at times,’ friend Jeff Kennett says of Packer after the One.Tel collapse, while claiming Tom Cruise and Scientology ‘saved him’ (Packer pictured with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes on Sydney Harbour in 2006)
WHAT CAUSED THAT INFAMOUS PUNCH-UP WITH DAVID GYNGELL
Tom Cruise is far from the only Packer confidant to disappear from his life.
Packer also deals with the notorious 2014 street brawl with his erstwhile best mate, former television executive David Gyngell, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
The two powerful men were pictured trading wild blows in the street outside Packer’s Bondi home and it is clear they have not patched things up.
‘I was physically assaulted outside my house,’ Packer says in the book. ‘[It] was an open-and-shut-case of assault.’
‘Who gets assaulted outside their house, regardless of the build-up?’
While it is understood Gyngell did not approve of Packer’s lifestyle at the time the billionaire suggests the confrontation was steeped in business. (Gyngell declined to be interviewed for the book).
‘I have never questioned James about his father – that is so deep,’ says Warren Beatty. I would not want to in some superficial way invade that territory. (James and Kerry Packer pictured)
‘DRINKING HIMSELF INTO OBLIVION’ AT WARREN BEATTY’S HOUSE
Packer went on to rebuild his business empire in the years that followed the One-Tel disaster but by the end of 2016 he had reached a new low.
The billionaire was knowingly drinking himself ‘into oblivion’ – often downing more than a bottle of vodka a day – biographer Kitney writes.
JAMES PACKER’S LIFE AND TIMES
1967: James Douglas Packer is born to media mogul Kerry and philanthropist Ros Packer in Sydney
About 1985: Finishes school and works as a jackaroo in Northern Territory
1999: Marries first wife, model Jodhi Mears; the couple separates in 2002
2001: Telecommunications company One.Tel goes broke, costing Packer $300m
2005: Kerry Packer dies and James takes over family business
2006: Starts selling major television asset Channel 9 as he moves into casinos
2007: Marries model Erica Baxter, the mother of his three children; the couple separates in 2013
2012: Forms RatPac film production company with producer Brett Ratner
2014: Has public street fight with then best friend David Gyngell
2016: Becomes engaged to singer Mariah Carey; couple separates later that year
2017: Sells out of RatPac
2018: Steps down from Crown Resorts board
At the time Packer was living with movie legend Warren Beatty in the guest house of Beatty’s Mulholland Drive estate in the Hollywood Hills.
While Packer came to refer to Beatty as “Dad’, that title does not sit comfortably with Beatty. ‘That would not come to mind, a father figure,’ he says in the book. ‘I would say a friend.’
‘He has been both graced and victimised – and I would say more graced – by the inheritance,’ Beatty says of Packer’s family wealth. He wishes he had met Kerry.
‘I have never questioned James about his father – that is so deep. I would not want to in some superficial way invade that territory.
‘But of the people I know that knew Kerry Packer, I don’t know that the father had the capability of self-analysis that I think I see in James.’
An intervention by friends did not to deter Packer from turning to the bottle, despite medical test results six months earlier revealing the growing damage he was doing to his liver.
‘There have been stages of my life when I drink way too much,’ Packer admits in the book, as Kitney claims he once drained half a bottle of vodka before 6am.
Share prices of his various businesses were plummeting following the arrest of Crown employees in China and a corruption scandal dubbed Case 1000 which had embroiled Packer and his friend, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Packer was already deeply in debt as he negotiated splitting his father’s estate with sister Gretel.
The combination of alcohol with the powerful prescription drugs he’d been put on to ‘help his mood’, didn’t help his deteriorating mental state.
Escaping to his Ellerstina polo ranch in Argentina, Packer continued drinking and taking new medication which saw his weight balloon from 100kg to 130kg.
By the end of 2016 James Packer had reached a new low, following business troubles and his biter split with Mariah Carey (Packer pictured breaking down during an interview in 2003)
THE BITTER MARIAH CAREY SPLIT AND BECOMING ‘TOXIC’
In the midst of Packer’s struggles in October 2016, his engagement to pop star Mariah Carey also came to an abrupt end.
Packer describes their romance as ‘fun’ at first and his former fiancée as ‘insanely bright’.
The pair had enjoyed an 18-month relationship, which quickly turned bitter once they publicly parted ways. Packer was reaching rock-bottom.
‘By the time the Israel so-called Case 1000 had become public, the China arrests and Crown’s sale of Macau had occurred and the breakup with Mariah had happened, I had become toxic,’ Packer says.
‘I was in a bad, bad way.’
Carey reportedly received a AUD$70million (USD$50million) ‘inconvenience fee’ after the breakup – having initially been poised to accept AUD$7million to walk away before allegedly upping the sum.
The singer’s camp apparently believed Packer had leaked details of his settlement to her after the failed engagement.
‘I had absolutely nothing to do with the story,’ Packer says.
James Packer has two broken marriages behind him but is still close to both ex-wives, Jodhi Meares and Erica Packer, mother of his children. (Packer and Jodhi Meares pictured in 2001)
BILLIONAIRE FRIEND STOPPED HIS WEDDING TO THE POP STAR
A billionaire friend of Packer’s reveals he once grounded the casino mogul’s private jet to halt his plans to marry Carey.
Kerry Stokes, the owner of the Australian Seven Network, said he ordered unscheduled maintenance for Packer’s plane after Carey had demanded to have it chartered for a flight from Las Vegas to Israel, where Packer had been living.
The 78-year-old says the pop star was outraged, and even accused him of kidnapping Packer, but states he had never intended to put a complete stop to their union and was only worried about his friend’s mental health.
‘I was accused of separating the lovebirds,’ Stokes says.
Stokes had taken charge of Packer’s private affairs in 2016 as his life descended into chaos amid extreme debt and personal issues.
In that role Stokes became so concerned about Packer and Carey’s lifestyle he rejected a request from her to spend $250,000 on a wedding dress.
Intervening: Kerry Stokes (left) admits he halted Packer’s plans to marry Carey as he feared for his friend’s mental health (Stokes pictured with Packer and Carey in Italy in 2015)
DEPRESSION, REHAB AND A LONG MENTAL HEALTH BATTLE
Following a troubled couple of years, Packer checked into The Pavilion wing of Boston’s McLean Hospital in March 2018 for rehabilitation.
The billionaire was joined by his mother Ros, and one of his close business associates, Guy Jalland, as he entered the AUD$5,000 (US$3,530) a night facility.
‘The horrors of 2016 had left Packer, for the third time in his life, suffering a nervous breakdown,’ Kitney writes in the book.
[Years after the One-Tel disaster Packer had suffered a second breakdown when Crown took on too much debt with American casino investments before the global financial crisis].
‘Those who know him well and saw the private pain of his two previous mental crises say this latest iteration was by far his worst.
‘It led him in March 2018 to acknowledge to the world for the first time that he was battling mental health issues, as he resigned from the Crown board for the second time in the space of two and a half years.’
‘Kylie is a good person, a really good partner, and we are taking things slowly, one day at a time,’ Packer gushes of new girlfriend Kylie Lim following a sting in rehab earlier this year (Packer pictured with Kyle Lim in July 2018)
PRAISING NEW GIRLFRIEND KYLIE LIM FOR HELPING HIM RECOVER
Packer opens up in the book for the first time about his two-year relationship with Canadian-born model turned socialite Kylie Lim, who he praises for helping him through the dark time.
‘Kylie is a good person, a really good partner, and we are taking things slowly, one day at a time,’ Packer says. ‘I’m lucky she’s in my life.’
Author Kitney also describes Lim for being the ‘one constant presence’ in Packer’s life over the difficult past two years, although he is also close to both ex-wives.
Through his recovery, Lim has been by Packer’s side during trips to Bora Bora, Aspen, Los Angeles, his Ellerstina polo ranch in Argentina, Cabo, Saint-Tropez, Capri and Ibiza.
While Lim is a ‘good person’ and a ‘really good partner’ it is second ex-wife Erica and his children, 10-year-old Indigo, Jackson, eight, and Emmanuelle, six, who remain Packer’s priority.
‘She is the mother of my kids,’ he tells Kitney. ‘And the kids are my priority.’
‘Jodhi is a great source of happiness and friendship in my life. I talk to Erica multiple times a day. And I think Jodhi is an incredibly special person. I’m just so lucky to have them both in my life.’
James Packer pictured with ex-wife Erica and children Indigo, Emmanuelle and Jackson. ‘She is the mother of my kids,’ Packer tells Damon Kitney in the book. ‘And the kids are my priority’
FUTURE LOOKING BRIGHT FOR THE TROUBLED BILLIONARIE
Erica says both parents are determined to remain a family and that she and her former husband plan their children’s lives around what is best for all of them.
‘I first fell in love with James for the following characteristics: his kindness, curiosity, tenacity, and enthusiasm for life,’ Erica says. All those qualities are still there.
Despite repeated rumours the onetime couple might rekindle their romance, Packer says that will not be happening.
‘I’m not sure Erica would want to,’ he says.
Packer and Beatty also remain friends, having lunch together at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge every few months.
‘Warren has continued to be a friend, even when it was less fashionable to be my friend,’ Packer says. ‘And for that I am truly grateful.’
Thom Knoles, a maharishi Packer has employed to supplement his prescription medication regime with more natural forms of therapy sees good times ahead for the troubled billionaire.
‘I know this man,’ Knoles says. ‘He has a huge amount left in him to give. He is a giver. He is somebody who has amazing stamina and staying power.
‘I think that we are still to see James’s best days, to tell the truth.’
The Price of Fortune: The Untold Story of Being James Packer by Damon Kitney is published by HarperCollins. Recommended retail price: $45.
‘I’m lucky she’s in my life’: Through his recovery, Lim has been by Packer’s during trips to Bora Bora, Aspen, Los Angeles, Ellerstina, Cabo, Saint-Tropez, Capri and Ibiza