Ron Rice, Creator of Hawaiian Tropic Lotion, Dead at 81
Ron Rice, a high school chemistry teacher who had been trained to explore petroleum but instead made a fortune concocting a coconut-based sunscreen lotion in a 20-gallon trash can in his garage and calling it a seductive Hawaiian Tropic, died on the 19th in Daytona Beach, Florida. He was 81 years old.
His death, in a hospital, was announced by his family on Facebook. No cause was specified.
A dust-poor boy from North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Mr. Rice fell in love with the ocean shores of Florida while on a family vacation in the 1940s. Years later, after a visit to Hawaii, he was inspired to take on Coppertone, a leading brand of suntan lotion, which promised naturally pale sunbathers like him that they would tan, not burn, if they slathered themselves with zinc oxide, the product’s alkylic acid. benzoate, isopropyl palmitate and other ingredients.
After graduating from college in 1964, he transplanted to Florida, taught for eight years (in short-lived positions at seven schools, but long enough to get a deferment) and worked part-time as a football coach and lifeguard, positions well served by his height of 6 feet 3 inches.
On the side, he blended myriad combinations of coconut oil, exotic fruits, aloe, avocado, kukui, mineral oil, and cocoa butter until they combine into a lotion that a few 11-year-olds he enlisted in the neighborhood poured out of this fundamental trash can. 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 South Asia -Is, but the name Tropic Tan was already copyrighted.)
In 2006, after years of shameless promotion through celebrity-judged beauty pageants (Donald J. Trump met his second wife, Marla Maples, while competing in the Hawaiian Tropic pageant), auto racing (the company’s name appeared on a Porsche driven by Paul Newman at Le Mans in 1979), and nifty, not-so-subtle placements in movies and TV shows — plus various other stunts — Hawaiian Tropic’s sales had topped $110 million, making it the second-most largest solar products company in the world.
A year later, Mr. Rice sold it to Playtex Products for $83 million.
“Tanning is sex,” he once said. “That’s what it all comes down to. Sex and vanity.
Ronald Joseph Rice was born September 1, 1940 in Ashville, North Carolina to Clyde and Pauline (Crosby) Rice.
The family lived on a mountain. From the time Ron was 5, he would join his siblings at their roadside stall selling apples, cider, honey, grapes and Christmas wreaths to supplement their father’s income as a ‘civil engineer.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where, according to several accounts, he was studying to explore for oil and uranium and to become a teacher.
“I was teaching at school and making $4,300 a year. 4,000 of that was for the teaching part, $300 for the coaching part,” he once told a TV interviewer. “I did this for eight years. I could come back to it if necessary, but I’m not saying that I want to go back.
“It’s fun,” he said of his sweet, lubed Hawaiian Tropic lifestyle, “and there’s a lot of extra toys involved, and a lot of fun times, and I drink a little bit of better wine, of course, but I’m still a country boy.
Information about 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 aid station where he once worked, housed a nightclub and an indoor-outdoor pool. He owned an 80ft yacht and a Lamborghini which he lent to Burt Reynolds for the movie “The Cannonball Run” (1981).
As a reminder of his roots, and a testament to his success, Mr. Rice placed the trashcan in which he had developed the Hawaiian Tropic formula in his living room. He made it silver plated.