By the time he came up with the idea for Fiji water in the early 1990s, Mr. Gilmour had amassed a fortune from his business ventures with Peter Munk, a friend from his college days in Toronto. Together they launched a popular stereo company, Clairtone Sound; assembled a chain of more than 50 hotels across the South Pacific; and funneled their earnings into a Canadian oil company that evolved into the world’s largest gold mining business, Barrick Gold.
Their collaboration took Mr. Gilmour around the world, to mines in Northern Ontario and a proposed hotel site near the Egyptian pyramids, although he kept returning to Wakaya, a tiny Fiji island that he first visited in the early 1970s. The island was home to lush forests, white sand beaches and turquoise lagoons, and became a refuge for Mr. Gilmour after the death of his only child, Erin Gilmour, who was slain in her Toronto apartment in 1983, at age 22.
Mr. Gilmour built a reservoir, airstrip and jetty on the island, as well as a 12,000-square-foot villa he called Vale O, or House in the Clouds. In 1990, he opened the Wakaya Club & Spa, an exclusive resort that he jokingly referred to as “a place to put the overflow guests” from his home.
The resort’s eight thatched-roof suites were reserved by celebrities including Bill Gates, Nicole Kidman, Paris Hilton and Keith Richards, and staff lived nearby at a new “company town.” At the center of the community was a red-roofed church with a set of stained glass windows that served as a memorial to Mr. Gilmour’s daughter.
As Mr. Gilmour told it, the island was his “Noah’s ark,” keeping him afloat in a tempestuous world. It was “my passion, my home, my retreat, the source of my inspiration,” he told Palm Beach Illustrated in 2015. “Ideas come to me when I’m sitting on the island; it’s given me every good idea I’ve had in business.”
That included the idea behind Fiji water, which Mr. Gilmour said was inspired by seeing a guest brandish a bottle of Evian on the Wakaya golf course. There was no reason, he decided, for someone to bring a water bottle from Europe when there was fresh natural water to be found in Fiji.
Mr. Gilmour founded Fiji water in 1999, after locating a pristine aquifer on the country’s largest island, Viti Levu, and signing a 99-year lease with the Fiji government. He invested about $48 million of his own money to launch the business, according to the Wall Street Journal, and sold the water in distinctive square bottles adorned with a picture of a hibiscus flower and text describing the water’s source as a “virgin ecosystem far from acid rain, herbicides, pesticides and other pollutants.”
To promote the brand, Mr. Gilmour worked his Hollywood connections to get the bottles placed on television shows including “The Sopranos” and “Ally McBeal.” He also lobbied for Fiji water to be carried by luxury restaurants and hotels, and vouched for the purity himself: He never drank tap water, he told the Times of London, and always traveled with bottles from Fiji. “I brush my teeth with it,” he said.
By 2004, Fiji water was reportedly the second-biggest imported water brand in the United States, behind only Evian. The business was sold that year to Roll International — a private Los Angeles-based company now called the Wonderful Co., owned by billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick — for a reported $50 million.
Like other bottled water companies, Fiji has been criticized as wasteful, given the plastic that goes into the bottles and the energy it takes to make, fill and ship them around the world. But the company has remained a commercial success, and today trails only San Pellegrino among imported water sales in the United States, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp.
Mr. Gilmour had little interest in serving as a corporate caretaker. As he told the Toronto Globe and Mail in 2008, he was happy to sell a business once it started to take off and was more interested in developing new ideas than holding on to old ones. “Once it reaches a critical mass, I kind of get bored sitting around a boardroom table,” he said. “In my companies, we don’t have board meetings.”
The youngest of four children, David Harrison Gilmour was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Nov. 5, 1931. He grew up in Toronto, where his father worked as an investment banker. His mother was an opera singer who performed in London and across Canada.
As a boy, Mr. Gilmour went skiing and horseback riding and spent summers traveling overseas. After he graduated from high school, the Globe and Mail reported, his father offered him money either to finance a start-up or to fund a years-long vacation across Europe. Mr. Gilmour accepted the latter, receiving a $10-a-day stipend on the condition that he not travel with friends, whom his father considered a bad influence.
“I learned what people are really like,” he said. “I learned to touch only what I totally believe in 100 percent. And I learned how to take care of myself.”
He went on to study business at the University of Toronto, and sold pots and pans door-to-door before launching his first company, Dansk Design, which sold modern Scandinavian furniture and housewares.
In 1958, he partnered with Munk, a Hungarian-Canadian electrical engineer, to found Clairtone Sound. The company’s futuristic stereos appeared in movies with Frank Sinatra and Sean Connery and earned praise from jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie, but the business struggled after it expanded into television and moved its manufacturing from Toronto to Nova Scotia. Mr. Gilmour and Munk were forced out of the company in the late 1960s, and the company collapsed a few years later.
“That was our PhD in business,” Mr. Gilmour told the Globe and Mail.
With Munk, he soon started the Southern Pacific Hotel Corp., which acquired dozens of hotels in countries including Australia and New Zealand. Mr. Gilmour worked for several years on a project to build a luxury resort near the pyramids, with backing from Saudi financier and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, but the proposal was condemned by politicians and archaeologists and ultimately killed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The company was sold in 1981 to Singaporean banker Khoo Teck Puat for about $100 million.
Mr. Gilmour continued working with Munk on companies including Barrick Gold and TrizecHahn, a real estate business, and described his business partner as “the brother I never had.” Munk died in 2018.
In 1981, Mr. Gilmour married Jillian Sweeney, a New Zealand native and his sole immediate survivor. They lived in New York and Palm Beach, Fla. After a cyclone decimated Wakaya in 2016, Mr. Gilmour sold the island to Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune. She was sentenced to almost seven years in prison in 2020 for her role in the NXIVM sex-trafficking case.
Mr. Gilmour’s marriages to Anna Wilmot, with whom he had his daughter, and Diane Williams ended in divorce. Last year, investigators used genetic genealogy to charge a Northern Ontario man in the 1983 killings of Mr. Gilmour’s daughter and another woman, Susan Tice. His wife said the charges seemed to bring “some kind of closure” to Mr. Gilmour, who had previously acknowledged self-medicating with vodka and Valium in the years after his daughter’s death.
In what he described as a tribute to his daughter, he used his business earnings to build several preschools in Fiji and across the United States. More recently, he was working on one last business venture, Wakaya Perfection, a health and wellness company that he founded with David M. Roth. The business specializes in organic ginger, turmeric and kava, a Pacific Island plant used to make a ceremonial drink with calming properties. Launching the company, Mr. Gilmour told Palm Beach Illustrated, was “the most important thing I’ve ever done.”