Chaleo Yoovidhya, Created Red Bull Beverage, Is Dead

Chaleo Yoovidhya of Thailand, who earned billions by creating and marketing Red Bull, the energy drink that has added a caffeinated jolt to countless all-nighters and parties, died on Saturday in Bangkok.

His death was reported by the state broadcaster MCOT, which cited the Thai Beverage Industry Association. The Nation, a Thai newspaper, reported that he was 90, while several other news media outlets in Thailand said he was 88. Forbes recently put his age at 80.With little formal education, Mr. Chaleo founded a small pharmaceutical company, TC Pharmaceutical Industries, in the early ’60s. He started producing antibiotics but later turned to concocting a beverage that was loaded with caffeine, as well as an amino acid called taurine and a carbohydrate called glucuronolactone.Christened Krathing Daeng — “red bull” in Thai — it was marketed to laborers and truckers in need of a boost. The drink, along with its many imitators, became the unofficial beverage of the expansion that turned Thailand into one of Asia’s so-called tiger cub economies in the ’80s.Krathing Daeng’s path to international phenomenon began when Dietrich Mateschitz, a sales representative for the German household products company Blendax, found Asian pharmacies peddling a variety of syrups as potent pick-me-ups and discovered that they cured the jet lag he experienced on his frequent flights around the world.He got in touch with Mr. Chaleo, one of Blendax’s Asian licensees, and soon the two had a partnership that would bring Red Bull to the rest of the world. According to an article in Forbes, each man put up $500,000, and each took a 49 percent stake, with the last 2 percent going to Mr. Chaleo’s son Chalerm.It was Mr. Mateschitz who came up with the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings,” and for a drink with more than double the amount of caffeine found in Coca-Cola, the name was apt. With its distinctive silver can, Red Bull was embraced by students who needed to stay alert into the wee hours, and by carousers who wanted to perk up while they imbibed. Mixologists, amateur and professional alike, dreamed up a slew of new cocktails, like the Vod-Bomb: Red Bull and vodka.There were tales about the dangers of this combination, including a 2007 article in the British newspaper The Daily Mail with the headline “Mixing vodka and Red Bull can be deadly, warn experts.”Such articles, as well as the occasional ban in European countries, only added to Red Bull’s cachet with its fans, which tend to be young and male. An aura of danger was part of the brand. The company’s Web site contains videos of stunts like a man back-flipping off the Tower Bridge in London.Red Bull long eschewed traditional media outlets, like television, and focused on sponsoring student parties, sporting events and athletes, with a special emphasis on the stars of extreme sports.The strategy worked. In January 2011, the privately held company reported that it had sold 4.2 billion cans of Red Bull, generating revenue of $5.1 billion. It claimed a 70 percent share of the energy drink market. Forbes estimated Mr. Chaleo’s wealth at $5 billion and ranked him the 205th-richest man in the world.In terms of personality, Chaleo Yoovidhya was the opposite of the adrenalized fun his drink inspired. He was reclusive and, according to one of his sons, had not given an interview in 30 years.He was born in central Thailand, the son of a poor Chinese family. His parents reportedly sold fruit and ducks, and among his early jobs was a stint as a bus conductor.