The last time Jeff Bezos, the 49-year-old CEO and founder of Amazon, saw his biological father, he was three years old.
His biological father, whose name is Ted Jorgensen, was 18 when he impregnated Bezos' mother, Jacklyn Gise, who herself was 17. They were both still in high school at the time. They got married before their son was born.
The marriage lasted only 17 months, reports Brad Stone at Bloomberg Businessweek, who has unearthed astonishing new details about Bezos' family's early years.
Gise moved in with her parents because Jorgensen stayed out late, and drank too much, and was generally an inattentive father and husband says Stone. He agreed to a divorce, and paid a small amount of child support to Gise when he had money. Other times he missed the payments.
Three years after their divorce, Gise married another man, Miguel Bezos, a Cuban immigrant who taught himself English, and eventually worked at Exxon. Miguel adopted Jeff, and Jeff took his last name. Jorgensen had to sign off on the name change, which he did, Stone reports.
For a brief period Jorgensen remembered the Bezos name, but through the years he forgot about it, and dropped completely out of touch with his ex-wife and his son.
Jorgensen's absence from Bezos' life was so complete that in a 1999 interview with Wired, Bezos said of Jorgensen, "I've never met him," although, in reality he lived with him for the first year of his life.
"The reality, as far as I'm concerned, is that my Dad is my natural father. The only time I ever think about it, genuinely, is when a doctor asks me to fill out a form," said Bezos in 1999.
Jorgensen, for his part, had a nearly identical attitude about Bezos.
However, Stone managed to find Jorgensen, now 69, who owns a bike shop in Glendale, Arizona.
Here's how Jorgensen reacted when Stone introduced himself: "He had no idea what I was talking about. Jorgensen said he didn’t know who Jeff Bezos was and was baffled by my suggestion that he was the father of this famous CEO."
Stone jogged Jorgensen's memory, trotting out details about Bezos and his mother. Says Stone, "The old man’s face flushed with recognition. 'Is he still alive?' he asked, not yet fully comprehending."
Bezos' biological father had disconnected so thoroughly from Bezos life that not only did he not remember his name, and not only did he not realize his son was one of the richest men in the world, but he wasn't even sure if his son was still alive.
Jorgensen says that in his younger days "I wasn’t a good father or a husband." He eventually quit drinking, got his act together and opened his bike shop. He's married, but had no other children in his life beyond Bezos.
A family friend told Stone later that Jorgensen felt overwhelmed with sadness and regret. He wants to get in touch Bezos, but it's unclear if that will ever happen.
Stone has a book coming out about Amazon. It's excerpted at Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The stuff about his father starts at the bottom of the seventh page.