Hawaii: The island of Lanai, seen from Black Rock on  Maui

Above is the island of Lanai in Hawaii, seen from Maui. Billionaire David H. Murdock owns 98 percent of it. He also owns Dole Food Company, real estate development company Castle & Cooke, and hundreds of thousands of acres of land in 94 countries around the world. Murdock knows how to be rich.

(Update: In June of 2012, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison agreed to buy David Murdock’s 98 percent share of Lanai. For more on Larry Ellison, read The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison: *God Doesn’t Think He’s Larry Ellison, by Mike Wilson.)

We first heard the amazing biography of David Murdock early this past Saturday, on an episode of Global Business via the BBC World Service.

From homeless to billionaire

You really should listen to the 23-minute interview yourself, but in a nutshell, this brilliant but dyslexic high school dropout was homeless in Detroit following his service in WWII with one nickle and one penny to his name. That’s when a good Samaritan helped him borrow $900 to buy a $1,200 diner restaurant, which he flipped for a $700 profit 10 months later. Murdock then bought a beat-up old car and drove to Arizona.

In Arizona, he began building houses and selling them, and gradually amassed a real estate development empire over the next 17 years, expanding into commercial property, and California, and then Hawaii.

David Murdock believes that knowledge is power, and he says that “reading, reading” is how he acquired his knowledge. The most important book he has read — the cornerstone of his success — is Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. He says he’s given it to hundreds of students at his lectures.

Healthy eating: Fruits and vegetables

Hawaii is where he bought Dole Food Company in 1984, and then started reading every book he could find on food and fruit and vegetables. These studies sparked an intense interest in health and nutrition data, and a disdain for sugar, saturated fats, and carbohydrates.

After his third wife, Gabriele, died of cancer, Murdock became a fervent vegetarian. He has since started nutrition data and longevity research institutes in Kannapolis, North Carolina (The North Carolina Research Campus) and Westlake Village, California (California Health & Longevity Institute) “to teach people how to eat, because people eat wrong.”

Murdock and his Dole Food experts also supervised the publication of the Encyclopedia of Foods: A Guide to Healthy Nutrition.

Encyclopedia of Foods: A Guide to Healthy Nutrition

He does eat fish, but prefers smaller freshwater fish to large ocean fish because of mercury contamination, and he also eats egg whites.

Elsewhere online, there’s video of David Murdock showing Oprah Winfrey how he exercises, how he eats, how he makes a fruit and vegetable smoothie three to four times a day in his Jack LaLanne JLPJB Power Juicer, and how he shops for those fruits and veggies at Costco.

Murdock says he hasn’t had a cold or the flu in 20 years, that he never takes so much as an aspirin, and that doctors have told him he has the blood pressure of a teenager.

He has written some healthy diet blog articles for The Huffington Post, including “My Healthy, Weekly Shopping List,” “Food Knowledge Is Health Power,” and “A Recipe For Longevity: 33 Of The Healthiest Foods On Earth.”

Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story, but the billionaire is not without some controversy. The Salisbury Post of Salisbury, North Carolina reported in 2000 that “Some revere him. Some loathe him.

The site of his research center in Kannapolis was formerly a Cannon Mills plant, and the saga of his maneuvers in buying and selling the mill and the houses of the company town was not without animosity. The mill’s story ended in the largest mass layoff of workers in North Carolina history, after which, according to Wikipedia, “Murdock acquired the site and demolished the mill, with the demolition completed in 2006.”

The same February 2000 Sailisbury Post story notes that “An active Republican, Murdock held a fund-raiser for presidential candidate George Bush in November at his farm.” An impressive farm it is. An item at Flickr, “6044 David Murdock Estate,” has an aerial view and a number of supplemental links.

During the BBC interview, Murdock advises that “In order to do the impossible, you must see the invisible.”

To look at his estate and think that he used to sleep under a bush in a Detroit park gives you a remarkable example of what he means.

Update — March 3, 2011

Here’s a New York Times Magazine profile of David Murdock by Frank Bruni:

The Billionaire Who Is Planning His 125th Birthday

And this is his 1,545 calorie daily diet — breakfast, lunch, and dinner:

The Die-Later Diet