Jeff Bezos Lost His Status as the World’s Richest but Still Had a Stellar Year

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Amazon was already one of the greatest success stories of the 21st century when COVID-19 proved just how adaptable and resilient Jeff Bezos’ company had become. Amazon made big gains during the pandemic; and, in 2020, Bezos redefined the concept of being rich when he became the first person in history to accumulate $200 billion in personal wealth. The king of online retail endured a few rare lows and enjoyed more than a few incredibly high highs in 2021. Here’s a look back at Bezos’ notable year.

He Was Dethroned as King of the Billionaires

Bezos was the richest man in the world — until he wasn’t. That drama dates back to at least 2019 when Bill Gates knocked Bezos off his perch. In 2021, Bezos was the off-and-on king of the net worth hill once again.

Starting in May, Bezos was locked in a battle for top billing with French tycoon Bernard Arnault, with both men boasting net worths of nearly $200 billion. After enjoying 50 days in the No. 1 spot, Bezos lost the title to Arnault on July 20 as his net worth dropped by nearly $14 billion in one day after a bad report sunk Amazon’s stock.

While that storyline was playing out in the press, however, a lesser billionaire was coming up fast in the rearview mirror: Elon Musk went on a run in the fall that put both Arnault’s and Bezos’ fortunes to relative shame.

Bezos Built a Giant Yacht

In October, Architectural Digest reported on a potential sighting of Y721, Jeff Bezos’ super-secret, record-breaking yacht being built at a Dutch shipyard. News of the project first spread in May, when the world learned that the Amazon chief was finally getting what all proper billionaires must have in order to be whole — a comically humongous boat. With a length of 417 feet, the black-hulled, triple-deck, three-mast superyacht will be the longest sailing yacht in the world once it’s ready.

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With a reported cost of $500 billion, it’s also one of the most expensive — and that price tag doesn’t even include the support yacht that will accompany it to sea. That’s YS 7512, the 246-foot shadow vessel that Bezos commissioned to sail alongside Y721. It has a helipad for chopper access and plenty of storage for Bezos’ toys on the water.

Bezos Beat Elon Musk Into Space

When the news broke that Arnault had overtaken Bezos as the richest person in the world on July 20, Bezos wasn’t around to hear about it. When he left to go to space that day, he was the richest man on Earth — Arnault took the title while Bezos was floating.

Bezos and an assortment of special passengers soared more than 65 miles above Earth from a launch site in rural West Texas. The trip took place in a rocket and capsule designed and built by Blue Origin, which Bezos founded in 2000, just six years after he got Amazon off the ground.

The two other giants in the private-sector space race — Musk and Richard Branson — also launched their cosmic side hustles at around the same time. Branson beat Bezos into space by just nine days aboard his own Virgin Galactic spacecraft, which launched and returned successfully on July 11. Musk, so far, has stayed grounded — although Musk’s original Tesla Roadster was orbiting in space long before Bezos or Branson knew the feeling of weightlessness.

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Bezos Lost the Long Game to SpaceX Here on Earth

Bezos beat Musk into space, but he lost to his rival where it really counted, back where gravity rules. Bezos spent much of the spring, summer and fall embroiled in a legal battle with NASA and Musk’s SpaceX company after the former awarded the latter a $2.9 billion contract to build a lunar lander that will ferry astronauts to the moon.

NASA gave the contract to SpaceX in April, and Bezos immediately challenged the ruling in court, saying the agency showed unfair favoritism to Musk and that it should have funded efforts by both Blue Origin and SpaceX to develop their own moon vehicles. SpaceX submitted a $3 billion bid, according to CNN, but Blue Origin’s bid was double that at $6 billion.

The legal sparring delayed NASA’s work on the Human Landing System (HLS) program until a federal judge finally put an end to Blue Origin’s case in early November.

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