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Howard Robard Hughes was known as one of the richest men in the world in the 70s. A successful movie producer and a fearless flying ace, he was already a legend by the time he was thirty. At the age of eighteen, he inherited the Hughes Tool Company from his father and became a successful billionaire businessman.

In 1942, he designed and built the largest airplane in the world at that time. It was a cargo plane nicknamed the Spruce Goose because spruce, a type of fir, was used in its construction. Hughes took great pleasure in flying and broke a number of aviation records. In 1938, he flew around the world beating the record time that existed then. There was a hero's welcome that awaited him when he returned to New York.

Hughes also became a movie producer and made a name for himself in such movies as 'Hell's Angels' and 'Sacrifice and the Outlaw'. However, in 1958, when his fame and fortune reached their peak, Hughes mysteriously went into hiding. From then on, he saw no one of the outside world and began a lifestyle of a recluse which shocked the world. His messages were passed through a 'palace guard' to whom he wrote more often than he spoke. The drapes in the hotel room he stayed were black and taped shut. When he moved into the ninth-floor penthouse in Las Vegas, the buttons on the elevator were redesigned to indicate only eight floors. Hughes often managed to travel around the world without a passport with the help of his friends and those who worked for him.

Hughes had curious eating habits. Sometimes for weeks, he would survive on nothing else but canned soup which he would repeatedly send back tot he kitchen to be reheated many times. Inevitably, it would take him hours to get through one can. Occasionally, he would skip his meals completely. There were times he would develop a craving for banana-nut ice cream with every meal.

Perhaps his greatest and strangest obsession was with germs. Hughes once wrote to his servants an article on the subject of hygiene. He described in detail nine steps which had to be followed when opening a can of fruits, thus preventing germs from contaminating its contents.

Towards the end of his life, anything his subordinates handed to him has to be wrapped in fifteen or twenty layers of paper towels. The employee himself had to undergo a thirty-minute cleansing ritual. Hughes put paper towels on the floor rather than walk on the carpet. Even the sheets on his bed were covered in paper towels. However, ironically, he lived in unsanitary living conditions. His bedrooms were never tidied. The bedsheets were rarely changed. He hardly took care of himself -- in a period of ten years, he saw the barber only three times and moreover, he hardly cut his toenails and fingernails. He was frequently found sleeping all day the last few years of his life.

On April 5, 1976, Howard Hughes died of kidney failure. In his prime, he stood at 6 feet 4 inches and weighed about seventy-five kilograms. However, at his time of his death, he had shrunk three inches and lost about thirty-five kilograms. When he died, his wardrobe consisted of an old bathrobe, a hat and several pairs of pyjamas and shorts. With an estimated fortune that almost reached US$2 billion, he died as the richest man in the United States and probably the loneliest.

Answer the following questions using complete sentences
  1. State two of Hughes' achievements apart from his wealth.
  2. How did Hughes prove himself to be a 'flying ace' (paragraph 1) which won him much popularity ?
  3. Explain the word 'recluse' in paragraph 3.
  4. What did Hughes deliberately do to cut himself from the outside world ? Give one example.
  5. Why would it take Hughes hours to finish one can of soup (paragraph 4) ?
  6. What was odd about Hughes' craving for banana-nut ice cream ?
  7. Describe two ways by which Hughes protected himself from 'contamination'.
  8. Was Hughes living in a home which was completely hygienic ? Give one reason to support your answer.
  9. 'When he died, his wardrobe consisted of an old bathrobe, a hat and several pairs of pyjamas and shorts.' (last paragraph) Why was this so ?
  10. Describe how Howard Hughes would have looked like just before he died.
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He was a daring pilot who broke a number of aviation records and he built the largest airplane in the world in 1942. / He also produced movies which became quite successful.


He proved himself by beating the record in 1938 for flying around the world in the shortest time.


A 'recluse' is a person who lives alone away from the rest of the world / a person who lives away from other people / a person who lives in a place where there is hardly any contact with other people.


While he was staying at the top floor of his nine-storey penthouse, he made some changes to the buttons on the elevators to show only eight floors.


He would repeatedly send it back to the kitchen to be reheated many times while having it.
  6. He wanted it with every meal at times.
  7. He gave his servants a detailed nine-step process on how to open a can of fruits without contaminating the contents. He also put paper towels on the bed and floor.
  8. He was not because his bedrooms were never cleaned. / His bedsheets were not frequently changed.
  9. Since he hardly went out and frequently slept all day, he just needed more home wear like his pyjamas and shorts. / He did not need outdoor clothes (or clothes for other functions) as he hardly went out and frequently slept all day.
  10. He would have looked very skinny with long hair, long toenails and fingernails. / He would have looked skinny with long and messy hair. His toenails and fingernails would have been long and firty.

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Comprehension 1


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