Buffetts: Friends or family?

The billionaire and the singer may have to take DNA test to find the answer
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

'Uncle' Warren

'Cousin' Jimmy

Billionaire financier

Renowned island troubadour

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and musician Jimmy Buffett share a 20-year friendship. They talk on the phone regularly about business.

Warren Buffett's sister Doris Buffett, an amateur genealogist, is considering DNA testing to establish a conclusive genetic link.

Warren Buffett last May played ukulele and sang at the opening of Jimmy Buffett's Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant in Omaha, Neb., accompanied by Jimmy. They will collaborate again Tuesday at a New York charity dinner for Conservation International.

Even Jimmy Buffett's most ardent devotees - the margarita-sipping superfans who call themselves Parrot Heads - might not have heard one 2003 composition by the troubadour of laid-back island living.

''I bought Berkshire way back when it was cheap,'' he sang in the ditty, strumming softly on an acoustic guitar. ''I bought Berkshire way back then, and I do nothing but keep . . . it.''

A two-line ode to the stock of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which currently trades at more than $84,000 a share, might seem out of character for the singer of ''Margaritaville'' and ''Cheeseburger in Paradise.'' Jimmy Buffett is indeed a longtime Berkshire shareholder, and his short composition was played on videotape at Berkshire's annual meetings in 2003 and 2004.

In fact, the singer has also been friends with Warren Buffett, Berkshire's 74-year-old chairman and chief executive, for more than 20 years, both men say. Besides sharing a surname, the two men have long suspected that they also share a common genetic history. ''Warren leaves messages for 'Cousin Jimmy' and always has,'' says the singing Buffett, 58. ''I'll take it from him.'' The singer calls the financier ''Uncle Warren.''

No one knows for sure. The two are only now coming to the end of a two-decade process of determining how or whether they are actually related.

The attempt to link the two strains of Buffettmania has been spearheaded by Doris Buffett, Warren's 77-year-old sister. ''I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to connect up the two families,'' says Doris. Despite years of research, she has been unable to establish a conclusive link. She says she is considering DNA testing to make a certain determination.

Jimmy, Warren and Doris act more or less as though they were long-lost relatives. Doris has been a guest of the singer at performances. The friendship between the two Buffetts dates back to the early 1980s, when Doris Buffett sent letters to 116 other Buffetts around the United States seeking information about her family's history.

One of the letters landed on the desk of Jimmy Buffett, where it sat, unanswered, for two years before Doris finally heard back from the singer's office. Then, the two began corresponding, and in 1983 arranged to travel together, along with the singer's parents, daughter, nanny and others, to Norfolk Island - a remote speck of land in the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand, where there happens to be a large population of Buffetts.

Norfolk was settled in 1856 by descendants of the men who had participated in the 1789 mutiny aboard HMS Bounty, according to local historical societies. The mutineers' families relocated from the more remote Pitcairn Island, led by one John Buffett, a shipwright who settled on Pitcairn in 1823. There are 46 Buffetts on the Norfolk electoral rolls, out of a permanent population of 1,574, according to Grant Tambling, the island's administrator, and 12 Buffett children enrolled in the island's only school.

Jimmy says he grew up hearing tales of the South Pacific Buffetts from his mother, Peets Buffett. John Buffett, he says, came from the same part of Britain as he believes his own ancestors did.

The singer and Doris found a warm welcome among the Norfolk Buffetts, who are descendants of the many children - legitimate and otherwise - of John Buffett, according to Doris.

What they did not find, however, was evidence of a family tie between either Jimmy or Warren Buffett and the Norfolk Island Buffetts.

Not long after they got back from the South Pacific, Doris introduced the singer to her brother at a lunch in Washington, D.C.

It was that meeting that inspired Jimmy Buffett to buy 15 shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock in 1989, he says, adding that he has been buying it regularly ever since. How much does he own? ''A lot,'' he says with a laugh. The share price has risen by about $75,000, or more than 800 percent, since the year he first bought it.