“I’m writing something to Mark Wahlberg,” said Stewart Rahr, the billionaire pharmaceutical wholesale distributor.
It was a hazy summer afternoon and the 64-year-old president and CEO of Kinray Inc. sat in his office in Whitestone, Queens, planning a party. The guest list was the main concern.
“Marky Wahlberg is flying in to hang at my party, and I want him to bring Matt Damon so I am forwarding him this invitation,” he said, putting the finishing touches on an email. “Lionel Richie is also flying in from L.A., which is big. And Sharice, she is the best of the best and will be as popular as Celine Dion, which is a monster statement. I’ve been following her career for three years with my dear friend, David Foster, who probably discovered her. So I am sending that out to Marky because I want him to forward that out. Got it?”
The email to Mr. Wahlberg read: “Bro, please forward this 2 Matt Damon. Tons of thanks. C U August 2 at ur premier.” It was written in a giant purple font.
“Purple and yellow are my colors,” Mr. Rahr said. “And yellow is Rah Rah. Stewie Rah Rah.” He put on a pair of bright yellow Rayban Wayfarers. “Stewie Rah Rah, King of Fun.” Richard LeFrak and Justin Timberlake’s cousin helped Mr. Rahr coin the nickname.
Later that evening, Mr. Rahr flew to Scotland to play golf, and from there, he jetted to St. Tropez. He returned in time to attend the premiere of Mr. Wahlberg’s new film, The Other Guys, and to host his late-summer party at the 22,000-square-foot East Hampton home he bought for $45 million in 2005.
Stewart Rahr is the richest, most well-connected New Yorker you have never heard of. According to the 2009 Forbes 400, he is worth $1.9 billion and is the 183rd richest American. Despite the anonymity, Mr. Rahr, a slightly daffy and eccentric self-made billionaire, flaunts his wealth, his massive donations to charity–he is the top donor in the history of the Make-A-Wish Foundation–and, most of all, his famous friends. In fact, he is a compulsive name-dropper.
“Enter, s’il vous plait,” Mr. Rahr said, opening the glass door to his auxiliary office. He wore a baby blue T-shirt, frayed at the neck, light blue jeans and yellow Nike sneakers. His skin was alarmingly orange. “See if you recognize any of these people. This is the office of nonsense.”
The room was lined wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor, with more than 500 photographs of Mr. Rahr posing with various celebrities: Angelina Jolie, Michael Jordan, George W. Bush, Roger Federer and Paris Hilton. He is close with some of them– Andre Agassi is his “dear friend”; Phil Mickelson is his “friend”; Donald Trump is his “buddy”; Michael Milken is “the best friend to have. Milken is No. 1.” He has anecdotes about the rest.
“I can’t stand Tiger Woods. He is the most selfish man I’ve ever played golf with. It’s a tremendous story, but I don’t have time to tell it,” Mr. Rahr said. Then he told it. In 2003, Mr. Rahr donated $250,000 to the Rainforest Foundation to golf with Mr. Woods. “I played with Tiger and he didn’t say a word. At the end, my caddy went over to Woods and asked him to sign two hats for his daughters. Tiger Woods said, and I quote, ‘The round is over. We are now in my locker room. I don’t have to do anything.’ I got into this oral argument with Tiger Woods and got him to sign the two hats for my friend. Then he asked me not to come back for that evening’s event where I was co-hosting.”
“He’s the most selfish guy I know out of the 500 celebrities on this wall. He is, by far, the jerk. You can tell him I said so.”
Mr. Rahr began collecting the photographs after approaching Bill Gates years ago at a Sting concert in Bryant Park. “It’s validation,” he said. “It’s validation of where I am and what level I am on.”
Pierce Brosnan remained the only individual to shirk his advances. “There are four urinals. I take the one right next to him and I start peeing,” Mr. Rahr explained, as he stood up, pantomiming urination. He began to hum.
“[Brosnan] looks at me and says, ‘Gosh, your face looks so familiar.’ I say, ‘It should because you were so rude to me today. You wouldn’t let me take a picture,’” he said, referring to a little run-in they’d had while exiting the first-class cabin on a New York-to-Palm Beach flight. Now, in the rest room at Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Club, Mr. Rahr got his revenge. “And I said, ‘Here you are at my best friend’s place where they are honoring you. Now don’t you feel like an ass?’”
Mr. Brosnan apologized and insisted they snap a picture together. “It’s probably somewhere on this wall,” Rahr said. “That was the only guy who said, ‘No.’ And ironically, on that night, he was being honored at my buddy Donald Trump’s.” He smiled. “Great story.”
STEWART RAHR DOESN’T have the pedigree of your typical New York City billionaire. In 1969, he dropped out of New York University law school to work in distribution for his father’s Brooklyn pharmacy. His big personality and tireless work ethic came in handy as he worked the phones buying from manufacturers and selling to mom-and-pop pharmacies. “It was just wheeling and dealing, seven days a week,” he said. “They had to believe in me that I was a personable guy with their best interests at heart, which is still the way we do it 40 years later.”By 1994, Kinray was generating $200 million a year in sales. That number jumped after the company’s biggest competitor, Neuman Distributors, filed for bankruptcy in April 2000. “They took on too many customers and couldn’t perform like we did,” said Steve Burns, Kinray’s director of purchasing. “When they went out of business, our business doubled overnight.”
Kinray now distributes to 3,000 pharmacies in eight states along the East Coast and brings in close to $5 billion a year in sales. Its headquarters is a cavernous 400,000-square-foot warehouse filled with a $200 million inventory, from Tylenol to generic drugs.
Mr. Rahr was now back in his main office. His attention span was frighteningly short. He would break the briefest silences by spouting inspirational quotes. His favorite was one from Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give.”
About 10 years ago, Mr. Rahr had two melanomas removed, which led him to charitable causes. “It was a life-changing experience,” he said. Operation Smile, the Robin Hood Foundation and the Melanoma Research Alliance are among his favorite charities. The Make-A-Wish Foundation recently celebrated him for granting one wish per month for the past five years.
“I had to change my whole way of life. I would go out in the sun from 8 in the morning with a sun reflector in St. Martin and just tan. I was sick, mentally sick.”
He pointed to his face, which was a few shades lighter than Snooki’s. “This is self-tanning. Fucking self-tanning. I use L’Oreal for the face. I also put a layer of Jergen’s Natural Glow Tinted. I don’t mind being a buffoon.”
A call interrupted him. When he hung up, he laughed. “Jessica Simpson wanted $100,000 as an appearance fee, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” he said. “Then I ran off all the celebrities that are coming because I asked them, like Wahlberg and [former president Bill] Clinton.”
Mr. Rahr is married with two kids, and despite being close to the age when most people retire or begin to consider it, he said he has no plans to sell Kinray or take the company public. “When I met with Bill Gates, he told me it was the worst decision he ever made,” he said. “You go public when you need to bail out of debt. I never had any debt, so there was no reason for me to go public. I don’t [have] debt and I didn’t want to have to answer every quarter to people. That’s not my style.”
Instead, Mr. Rahr is looking at new business ventures. He was an executive producer on Shannon’s Rainbow, a horse-racing movie starring Daryl Hannah. Mr. Rahr also aspires to buy a sports team. “I am actively looking into a sports franchise.” He claimed it’s a “Big Four” sport but dismissed hockey–the New York Islanders were rumored to be on the block–and deflected further inquiries.
The No. 1 King of Fun would rather talk about his big bash in the Hamptons. “Who else should I tell P. Diddy is coming, besides Clinton, Russell Simmons and LL Cool J?” he asked no one in particular. “I’ll tell him Mark Wahlberg. He’ll like that.”
Days after the big party, Mr. Rahr checked in. He was revved up. “Clinton and Trump stayed till the end. Both were only supposed to stay for an hour,” he said. “The party was just tremendous. It was an awesome, awesome party. Best party they had out there in a decade.”