Malcolm Turnbull is said to have become concerned over a barrage of emails he received from James Packer.
The messages ranged from foreign policy to Australia becoming a republic, but were said to have displayed anxiety and the rate of the emails prompted the Prime Minister to call the casino billionaire to ask if he was OK.
Packer’s struggles have been under the spotlight again since he resigned from Crown Resorts on Wednesday citing ‘mental health issues’.
Packer, who donated $250,000 to the Australian Republic Movement in 2016, sent the emails two years ago, but no information has been divulged in terms of the content of the messages nor the phone call, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The 50-year-old, who has battled anxiety and depression for years, is the only son of the late media mogul Kerry and one of Australia’s richest people with a personal fortune estimated at $3.9 billion.
‘Mr Packer is suffering from mental health issues. At this time he intends to step back from all commitments,’ a Packer spokesman said in an emailed statement.
Recent years have not been smooth sailing for either Crown or its high-profile director, who has three children and two ex-wives.
His high-profile engagement and subsequent split from American diva Mariah Carey in 2016 kept him in the public eye, a place he has admitted to finding uncomfortable.
Packer first left Crown’s board in 2015, the year he was briefly engaged to singer Carey, and rejoined 14 months ago while the company was in crisis following the arrest of staff for breaches of gambling marketing laws in China.
The arrests prompted the Melbourne-based, Aus $8.9 billion firm to reverse a decade-old global expansion into the Asian gambling hub Macau and Las Vegas, to focus on Australia. Packer declared the company’s global strategy a failure.
He began selling assets to pay off his debts, including stakes in Macau-based Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd and Hollywood film company RatPac Entertainment.
He told The Australian newspaper in October ‘it has been a tumultuous four or five years for me’.
‘I’ve got China falling apart, the Australian casino businesses missing budgets by big amounts, I’ve got Mariah breaking up with me… ‘ he was quoted as saying.
In February, he was named by Israeli police as a witness in a bribery investigation against Benjamin Netanyahu, having lavished the Israeli prime minister and his family with expensive gifts. The Australian is not accused of criminal conduct.
Packer forged Crown by selling his father’s media empire to private equity firms a decade ago and buying casino interests from Vegas to Macau.
His personal stake in Crown, which once topped 50 per cent, made Packer responsible for blunders that have crimped the company’s growth prospects.
‘Packer is the company,’ said a former Melco executive who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Crown sold its third-stake in Macau-based Melco for $1.16 billion in May last year, just as it was about to recover from a slump in Chinese VIP gambling. Those shares are worth $4.6 billion at Melco’s current valuation.
‘It was a bad trade,’ said Mathan Somasundaram, Market Portfolio Strategist at stockbroker Blue Ocean Equities.
‘In theory, that was the cash cow that was going to fund growth in other regions.’
Business setbacks and relationship troubles have triggered mental health issues for Packer in the past.
His first major investment disaster came from his involvement with telecommunications company One.Tel along with fellow media heir Lachlan Murdoch.
One.Tel, of which Packer was a director, was declared insolvent in 2001. The collapse of One.Tel cost Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd more than $300million.
Packer later said he had learned a ‘painful lesson’ from the company’s collapse.
After his first marriage break-up and the collapse of the telecom company, Packer told the Seven Network in Australia that he ‘became depressed’ and ’emotionally exhausted’.
Packer has enjoyed a playboy lifestyle in recent years, hobnobbing with Hollywood royalty including Robert de Niro and Brad Pitt.
In a 2013 interview he detailed how Tom Cruise helped him through a tough period following the collapse of his first marriage to bikini model Jodhi Meares.
Packer flirted with the Church of Scientology around the same time, but has since distanced himself from the group.
He has previously told how he has found it uncomfortable being in the public eye.
‘I have always been shy. I have never liked the publicity,’ he told The Australian newspaper last year. ‘
I get more publicity than anyone and have for 20 years. Most of it is negative. And you get gun-shy of getting hit.’
His resignation from the board of Crown Resorts due to mental health problems might have surprised the business world but is hardly shocking.
James Douglas Packer was born to media mogul Kerry and his wife Ros in 1967. He was the couple’s only son and turned 50 in September last year.
James was educated at Cranbrook School at Bellevue Hill in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and after finishing his Higher School Certificate, went to work as a jackeroo on one of his father’s Northern Territory cattle stations.
He did not attend university because, he has said, he ‘didn’t have the marks’.
Kerry Packer was an imposing figure with whom James had a complicated relationship. The father thought the son was soft.
Author Paul Barry repeats an oft-told anecdote about the father and son in his book Who Wants To Be A Billionaire: The James Packer Story.
Keen to see his son excel at cricket, Kerry had bought a baseball pitching machine from the United States which he set up in the yard of the family’s Bellevue Hill compound.
The machine was capable of hurling balls at more than 190kmh and Kerry expected his 14-year-old son – then known as ‘Jamie’ – to face them.
When the machine’s operator turned the pace down for James his father would yell ‘What are you trying to do? Turn the boy into a wuss? He’s a man, he can face it.’
James has always feared failure and his father’s reaction to it.
Five years ago Packer recalled the days before his father’s death in an interview with Channel 7’s Sunday Night.
‘He said he loved me, he said he was proud of me,’ Packer told the program.
‘My dad was a larger-than-life character and I’m not going to say every minute or every hour we spent together was a highlight.’
One of Packer’s early mentors was businessman Al ‘Chainsaw’ Dunlap.
He convinced him he should call himself James rather than Jamie if he wanted to be taken seriously.
Upon his father’s death in 2005 Packer assumed control of the family company Consolidated Press Holding and began to move away from the media business into casinos.
For a couple of years a decade ago he was listed as the richest person in Australia.
Concerned about the viability of free-to-air television, Packer began selling his stake in Channel 9 in 2006, a process completed two years later.
In 2012 he formed a joint-venture film company called RatPac with Hollywood producer Brett Ratner but sold out in April 2017.
He also holds a share in the South Sydney Rabbitohs, making him a business partner of actor Russell Crowe.
Packer’s billions have meant he can maintain luxurious yachts including the former ice-breaker Arctic P and homes around the world.
By 2009 his wealth had dropped to $3billion but by 2013 was back up to $6billion.
Forbes magazine most recently estimated Packer’s wealth at $4.1 billion.
The former playboy’s personal life has seen as many up-and-downs as his business affairs.
He was engaged for two years to model and actor Kate Fischer, from whom he separated in 1998 after a five-year relationship.
He married model Jodhi Meares in a lavish wedding at the family’s Bellevue Hill mansion in 1999 and while the couple separated in 2002 they remain close.
Packer has spoken out in the past about his battles with depression and dealing with the death of his domineering father.
After his marriage to Meares and while associating with actor Tom Cruise, Packer became involved with the Church of Scientology which he said had been ‘helpful’ following the collapse of One.Tel.
He has since distanced himself from the organisation.
In 2007 Packer married another model, Erica Baxter. The couple has three children: daughter Indigo, now nine, son Jackson, 8 and daughter Emmanuelle Sheelah, five.
Packer and Baxter announced their separation in 2013.
The following year Packer was photographed in a wild public brawl at Bondi with David Gyngell, his then best friend and head of Channel 9.
Pictures of the fight were on front pages around the country, the combatants were each fined $500 for offensive behaviour and the Packer-Gyngell relationship has never recovered.
Packer next stunned the world by becoming engaged to American songstress Mariah Carey in early 2016. They had broken up by October that year amid acrimony.
Late last year Packer paid Carey a multi-million dollar settlement. He has described the relationship as a mistake for both of them.
Packer’s weight has fluctuated over the years and he has at times been a heavy smoker. He was recently reported to be in a relationship with New York socialite Kylie Lim.
Kerry Packer died of acute kidney failure aged 68. James’s grandfather Frank died aged 67 and his great-grandfather Robert Clyde – known as R.C. Packer – died aged 54.