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Red Bull owner and co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz dies at age 78

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A skinny, blue and silver can of Red Bull is a go-to for both amped-up athletes and all-night partiers. Red Bull's owner and co-founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, died over the weekend. He was 78. And as NPR's Andrew Limbong reports, his brand went far beyond energy drinks.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Ten years ago, BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner stood 24 miles above the Earth's surface decked out in a white suit. He looked down at the ground and told the control room...

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FELIX BAUMGARTNER: I'm going home now.

LIMBONG: ...I'm going home now. And then he jumped.

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LIMBONG: That day, he became the first man to break the sound barrier during free fall. Millions watched, and when he opened his parachute above New Mexico, it was the Red Bull logo that everyone saw bringing him home.

Red Bull started when Austrian businessman Dietrich Mateschitz was traveling in Thailand in the '80s. Jet-lagged, he tried a local drink called Krating Daeng, and it picked him up. He tracked down the creator, Chaleo Yoovidhya, and convinced him to carbonate it and, more importantly, market it out West, which included that famous catchphrase...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Red Bull gives you wings.

LIMBONG: Mateschitz didn't give interviews often, but he talked to journalist Duff McDonald, who told NPR in 2012 about Mateschitz's philosophy behind marketing the drink.

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DUFF MCDONALD: And I asked him - I said, what gave you the brass to put a premium price on it out of the gate? And he looked back at me - all deadpan - and he said, how would people know it was a premium product if it didn't have a premium price?

LIMBONG: The company defined itself by associating with extreme sports and F1 racing and even started its own music label. The marketing plan worked. According to the company, a total of 9.8 billion cans of Red Bull were sold worldwide in 2021. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.