Saints, Pelicans owner Tom Benson dies at 90 years old after bout with flu

Tom Benson, a New Orleans native who would go on to own both the city’s NFL franchise and its NBA franchise, died on Thursday. He was 90 years old.

The Saints and Pelicans announced the news on social media.

An obituary on the Saints’ website said Benson “passed away peacefully at Ochsner Medical Center with his wife Gayle Marie Benson at his side.”

Tom Benson had been hospitalized with the flu since Feb. 16.

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New Orleans Saints, Pelicans owner Tom Benson
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New Orleans Saints, Pelicans owner Tom Benson
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 28: New Orleans Pelicans and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson (top row left) sits with his wife Gayle Benson during a game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets at the Smoothie King Center on January 28, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 6: New Orleans Pelicans Owner Tom Benson listens to speakers as he and Smoothie King Owner Wan Kim announced today a multi-year agreement reached between the Pelicans and Smoothie King to name the New Orleans Arena the Smoothie King Center. on February 6, 2014 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
METAIRIE, LA - AUGUST 1: Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Pelicans addresses the media during a press conference to unveil the team's new home and road uniforms on August 1, 2013 at the New Orleans Pelicans practice facility in Metairie, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
METAIRIE, LA - AUGUST 1: Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Pelicans shakes hands with Anthony Davis #23 during a press conference to unveil the team's new home and road uniforms on August 1, 2013 at the New Orleans Pelicans practice facility in Metairie, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21: Owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle poses for a photo with Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans during a reception for the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery on May 21, 2013 at the Millennium Hotel in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 6: Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Hornets, center right, and actor Robert De Niro, center left, attend a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Hornets on March 6, 2013 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 24: Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Pelicans, speaks with the media at a press conference to announce the name change from the New Orleans Hornets to the New Orleans Pelicans at the New Orleans Arena on January 24, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CANTON, OH - AUGUST 05: New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson and his wife follow the action when the New Orleans Saints play the Arizona Cardinals in the Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on August 5, 2012 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
CANTON, OHIO - AUGUST 5, 2012: Owner Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saits walks on the sideline before a game with the Arizona Cardinals at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio. The Saints won 17-10. (Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 29: New Orleans Hornets owner Tom Benson and wife Gayle introduce the team's first round draft picks Anthony Davis (L) of Kentucky and Austin Rivers (R) of Duke at a press conference on June 29, 2012 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. From left, Rita Benson LeBlanc, Anthony Davis, team owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle, Austin Rivers and Ryan LeBlanc. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 29: Team owner Tom Benson introduces Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers to the media at the New Orleans Arena on June 29, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Davis was the first overall pick and Rivers the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 30: Owner Tom Benson, wife Gayle and daughter Rita of the New Orleans Hornets reacts during the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery on May 30, 2012 at ABC News 'Good Morning America' Times Square Studios in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 18: (L-R) New Orleans Saints owners Tom Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc greet fans during the pregame against the Minnesota Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on December 18, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher /Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 09: Team Owner of the New Orleans Saints Tom Benson, his wife Gayle and his daughter Rita Benson Leblanc wave to the fans as they ride a float, displaying the VInce Lombardi trophy, out onto the field prior to the Saints playing against the Minnesota Vikings at Louisiana Superdome on September 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 12: New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson looks on during warm ups with wife Grace Benson before his team plays the San Francisco 49ers during their preseason game at Louisiana Superdome on August 12, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama stands alongside quarterback Drew Brees (L), New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson (R) and his family, during an event honoring the 2010 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC, August 9, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 09: New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle Benson wave during the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl XLIV victory parade on St. Charles Avenue February 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Cheryl Gerber/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07: New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson celebrates after his team defeated the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07: New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson celebrates after his team defeated the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Team owner Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saints, his wife Gayle (R) and daughter Rita Benson LeBlanc (L) celebrate after the Saints won 31-28 in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Team owner Tom Benson (C) of the New Orleans Saints, his wife Gayle (2nd R) and daughter Rita Benson LeBlanc (R) celebrate with the George S. Halas Trophy after the Saints won 31-28 in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
New Orleans - JANUARY 24: Owner Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saints celebrates his team's win against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Vikings 31-28 in overtime. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07: Tom Benson Owner of the New Orleans Saints celebrates on the podium after defeating the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 18: Team Owner Tom Benson left, celebrates with head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints after defeating the New York Giants at the Louisiana Superdome on October 18, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Giants 48-27. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Tom Benson owner of the New Orleans Saints reacts before the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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In recent years, the Benson family has been in the headlines due to a fight over the line of ownership succession for the Saints and Pelicans; the affair was finally ended last year with a settlement. The Saints, via social media, made it clear that Gayle Benson is the Saints’ owner.

Benson bought the Saints in 1985 for $70 million, after learning that the team could be sold to another party, that wanted to relocate the team. In the Saints’ first 18 years of existence, they not only had never made the playoffs, they’d never been above .500.

In Benson’s third season, 1987, New Orleans went 12-3 and got its first playoff berth. Ten more postseason appearances followed under his stewardship, including an unexpected 11-5 record, NFC South title and thrilling – though ultimately losing – divisional-round game against Minnesota.

New Orleans won Super Bowl XLIV in 2009.

Six years ago, Benson bought the New Orleans Hornets for a reported $338 million; a year later, the team was rebranded as the Pelicans. The team has made one playoff appearance since Benson became owner, and is in position for a second this season.

Condolences poured in from all over the NFL once news came of Benson’s passing, including this statement released by the league from commissioner Roger Goodell:

“Tom Benson’s contributions to New Orleans and the National Football League were legendary,” it read. “He purchased a team that had never had a winning season; by the third year of his ownership, the Saints were in the playoffs. Tom kept the Saints together through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and his decision to bring the team back to New Orleans gave the entire region hope and confidence that they would recover. The Saints rewarded their fans with tremendous football and a Super Bowl championship.

“Tom loved New Orleans, where he was a generous and caring philanthropist. Within the NFL, he was a true leader among NFL owners. He served as the chairman of the League’s Finance Committee for many years, was a key advisor to my predecessors, and was someone whom I frequently turned to since becoming commissioner. I know that the entire NFL family joins me in extending our most heartfelt condolences to Gayle Benson and the entire Saints organization.”

Born July 12, 1927, Thomas Milton Benson Jr. was raised in New Orleans’ 7th Ward, graduating from what was then known as St. Aloysius High School. After graduating from high school, he began studying business and accounting at Loyola University New Orleans, but interrupted his studies to enlist in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Benson served on the U.S.S. South Dakota.

When he returned home after the war, Benson resumed his studies at Loyola New Orleans and began working at Cathey Chevrolet Co.; at 35, he took full control of that company, growing it into a company with dealerships in greater New Orleans and South Texas. He would later enter the banking business, buying several small banks in the South.

Tom and Gayle Benson have made millions of dollars in charitable donations; in the football world, they gave $7.5 million toward the construction of Tulane’s Yulman Stadium; the field at the stadium is named after Benson. In November 2014, the stadium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame was renamed Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in recognition of an $10 million donation Benson made toward its refurbishment.

In a release, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced flags at the facility will be flown at half-staff as a tribute to Benson.

Details regarding public visitation and funeral for Benson have not yet been announced.

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