According to a statement from the team, Richardson passed away peacefully on Wednesday night at his home in Charlotte.
When Richardson acquired the expansion Panthers in 1993, he became the first former NFL player to own a team since George Halas of Chicago.
Richardson, a former teammate of Johnny Unitas, played in the NFL for just two seasons before deciding to enter the restaurant industry. Unitas completed a touchdown pass for the Baltimore Colts in the 1959 NFL Championship Game triumph over the New York Giants. He used his championship bonus money to open the first Hardee’s in Spartanburg, South Carolina close to where he had attended Wofford College.
He went on to make his fortune in the restaurant business, becoming chief executive officer of Flagstar, the sixth-largest food service company in the country at the time.
The Spring Hope, North Carolina, native spent years trying to persuade the NFL to put a team in the Carolinas, ultimately succeeding through a relatively original concept of funding a new stadium through the sales of permanent seat licenses.
“Jerry Richardson’s contributions to professional football in the Carolinas are historic,” current Panthers owner David Tepper and his wife Nicole said in a statement. “With the arrival of the Panthers in 1995, he changed the landscape of sports in the region and gave the NFL fans here a team to call their own. He was incredibly gracious to me when I purchased the team, and for that I am thankful. Nicole and I extend our deepest condolences to Rosalind, the entire Richardson family, and their loved ones. We wish them much peace and comfort.”
Carolina began play in 1995 and Richardson quickly built the Panthers into one of the league’s model franchises, while becoming a powerful figure in the NFL. Richardson served on several high-level owners committees, playing a key role in labor negotiations with the players’ union.
But Richardson’s reputation took a tremendous hit when he announced he was selling the Panthers on Dec. 17, 2017, the same day Sports Illustrated reported that four former Panthers employees received significant monetary settlements due to inappropriate sexually suggestive language and actions by Richardson. It was also reported he used a racial slur directed toward a team scout.
He sold the team to Tepper, a hedge fund owner, in May 2018 for a then-NFL record $2.27 billion. The following month the NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million for alleged workplace misconduct.
Richardson is survived by his wife, Rosalind, son Mark and daughter Ashley Richardson Allen.