Sir Richard Branson became one of the richest men in the world while maintaining a public persona as a cheerful daredevil, attempting to break world records with sailboat and hot-air balloon crossings. Richard Charles Nicholas Branson was born in 1950, the son of a barrister and a child welfare advocate. In the late 1960s, he founded a youth-themed magazine called The Student, and then started a mail-order discount record retail business called Virgin Records, which advertised for free in his magazine's pages. The first Virgin Records shop opened in 1970 in London's Oxford Street, specializing in obscure and imported records catering to the progressive rock niche; Branson and business partner Simon Draper started the label Virgin Records in 1972 with a similar musical bent. But with the advent of punk in 1976, Virgin Records successfully rebranded itself as one of the key British punk and post-punk labels, starting with Branson's signing of the Sex Pistols after the band's loutish behavior got them kicked off two more established labels.
The increasingly mainstream success of Virgin Records through the 1980s allowed Branson -- who admitted to not being particularly into music -- to indulge his own interests. Along with his high-profile (and sometimes life-threatening) world-record attempts and daredevil feats, he founded Virgin Atlantic Airlines in 1984, positioning it as the younger, hipper and more stylish alternative to the established airlines. That image became the default for Virgin's new ventures, including Virgin Megastores (a multimedia revamp of the original record stores, felled by the decline of music retailers in the 2000s), Virgin Cola (an oddball attempt to take on the major soft drink brands, launched in 1994) and the cellphone provider Virgin Mobile. In 2012, that company drafted Branson to star in its television advertisements, in which he played an exaggeratedly wolfish version of himself. The ads were able to play off of Branson's public persona, particularly in the U.K., as a bearded, middle-aged playboy with expensive hobbies such as ballooning, sailboats and, increasingly, suborbital space tourism through his new venture Virgin Galactic. Branson's image was familiar enough that in 1999, "The Simpsons" (Fox 1989- ) spoofed him in the episode "Monty Can't Buy Me Love" with the character of beloved tycoon Arthur Fortune, the Fortune Megastores owner who spends his spare time sledding down Mt. Everest.