Forrest Fenn, Who Said His Long-Buried Treasure Was Found in June, Dies at 90
Forrest Fenn, the eccentric antiquities dealer who recently announced that his elusive hidden treasure had been found after a decade of searching, has died. He was 90.
Fenn died at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Monday shortly after he was released from the hospital, Santa Fe Police Department PIO Greg Gurule confirms to PEOPLE. Authorities believe Fenn died of natural causes.
A decorated Vietnam War combat pilot, Fenn spent the last decade of his life in the media spotlight after he announced in 2010 that he’d hidden a treasure chest containing gold coins, nuggets and other loot somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.
Though he never placed an exact dollar amount on the bronze chest’s value, it was reportedly estimated to be worth $1-5 million, and Fenn guessed that some 350,000 people had gone searching for it over the years, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
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Fenn told PEOPLE in 2016 that his intentions for hiding the booty was to get people out into nature, and to give working class Americans a fair shot at instant wealth.
“I’ve had so much fun over the last 75 years looking for arrowheads and fossils and strange things out in the forests and along the river banks, why not give others the opportunity to do the same thing?” he said.
He also said the stunt was somewhat inspired by the fun he’d had building his collection of artifacts from around the world — as well as a cancer diagnosis.
“Why not let others come searching for some of it while I’m still here, and maybe continue looking for it after I’m gone?” he wrote in his 2010 book The Thrill of the Chase.
Fenn left clues as to the treasure’s location in a 24-line poem featured in the book, and on June 6, he announced that the search was over, as the prize had been discovered in Wyoming by an unidentified man from the East Coast.
The resolution of the decade-long hunt brought relief to some, as at least five people died while searching, most recently a 58-year-old Colorado man in late March.
Upon learning of the man’s death, Fenn told PEOPLE he “didn’t anticipate” the loss of any searchers, and that when he initially hid the treasure it was “an easy trip” for him — but now that a decade had passed, it would be impossible for him to go back and retrieve it.
He also said that despite calls to end the hunt for the sake of safety, he didn’t want to, as it would be unfair to those who’d spent time and money looking, the Associated Press reported.
Fenn got his start in the art world by building a gallery with his wife Peggy in Santa Fe in 1972, which focused on paintings by Western artists like Frederic Remington, Charlie Russell and Thomas Morgan, his website said.
According to the AP, his gig as a gallery owner and art dealer made him a popular figure on the celebrity circuit, and he was known for throwing parties featuring famous faces like Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange and Michael Douglas.
He and Peggy reportedly shared two daughters, Kelly and Zoe.