Former Seminole Tribe leader who built Hard Rock into worldwide brand dies from COVID

Devoun Cetoute
·3 min read

Max Osceola Jr., a longtime Seminole Tribe leader who transformed the tribe by building the Seminole Hard Rock hotel, cafe and casino brand into one of the world’s most successful entertainment enterprises, died Thursday night at the Cleveland Clinic from complications due to COVID-19.

He was 70.

He had been hospitalized and receiving treatment for the virus for several weeks.

Osceola served on the Seminole Tribal Council for more then two decades, representing the Hollywood Seminole Reservation. He was reelected to 13 consecutive two-year terms from 1985 to 2010.

“He served on the Seminole Tribal Council, the five-member elected governing body of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, during a time of major expansion of Seminole Gaming, which has grown to become one of the world’s most successful gaming operations,” according to a statement released by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

In his tenure as council representative, the Seminole Tribe purchased Hard Rock International, started by two Londoners in 1971, who plastered rock ‘n‘ roll memorabilia all over their cafes.

The tribe purchased the entity in 2007. Over the next 13 years, the Tribe expanded the business and it now operates in 74 countries, with cafes, hotels and casinos.

Chris Osceola, the current tribal council representative for the Hollywood Seminole Reservation and not related to Max, said in a statement that Max was “a modern-day warrior and a true legend among his people and many others around the world.”

“He will forever be embedded in our hearts and the history of the Seminole Tribe,” Chris said. “He was my friend and mentor and I will miss him dearly. It has been an honor to call him my friend. My sincere heartfelt condolences to his family and my sincere gratitude for sharing him with us.”

Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner told the Sun-Sentinel: “He was absolutely focused on overseeing the development of the Seminole casinos.

Osceola also worked with several nonprofit organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Ann Storck Center, Winterfest, the Victory Junction Camp, and Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America.

He was born in August 1950 in Hollywood and grew up on the Hollywood Seminole Reservation. He graduated from McArthur High School in Hollywood and attended the University of Tampa, then transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, where he won a national college football championship with his team, according to the Seminole Tribe.

Later in life, Osceola was inducted into the Broward Education Foundation Hall of Fame in 2017.

Osceola is survived by his wife Marge, his sons Max Osceola III and Jeff Pelage and daughters Melissa Osceola DeMayo and Meaghan Osceola. He is also survived by several sisters and brothers, grandchildren and extended family.

His funeral services will be private and a “celebration of life” will happen at a later unannounced date. The Osceola family is asking those who wish to honor Max to donate to the Max Osceola Memorial Scholarship Fund at the American Indian Graduate Center, the center for native scholarships, at