NEW YORK Dec 22 Billionaire philanthropist
Edgar Bronfman, the chairman of the Seagram Company and
long-serving president of the World Jewish Congress, died at his
New York home on Saturday aged 84, The New York Times reported.
Montreal-born Bronfman took control of the Seagram empire
from his father, Samuel Bronfman who had founded the liquor
company in 1924. He then expanded its operations, acquiring
Tropicana, moving Seagram into oil business and even chemicals,
by making it DuPont's largest minority shareholder.
The son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants was president
of the World Jewish Congress from 1981 until 2007, presiding
over its transformation into a more focused and confrontational
During his tenure, the U.S. Congress increased pressure on
the then-Soviet Union to loosen emigration restrictions on Jews
living there. Bronfman also pressed Congress' efforts to expose
the Nazi past of former U.N. Secretary-General and later
president of Austria, Kurt Waldheim.
The WJC during that period also joined the effort to force
Swiss banks to make restitution of more than $1 billion to
relatives of German death camp victims who deposited funds in n
Switzerland before World War 2, the Times said.
"What we have to do is write the last chapter," Bronfman
told Reuters in a 1996 interview to promote his book, "The
Making of a Jew".
"We will get the story, there is no question of that," he
said. "But in the meantime, Holocaust survivors are dying every
Bronfman, who published his memoirs "Good Spirits: The
Making of a Businessman" in 1998, one of four autobiographical
books, was put in control of Seagram's U.S. subsidiary, Joseph
E. Seagram & Sons by his father in 1953. He became a U.S.
citizen a few years later, the Times said.
It was in the 1950s that Bronfman's sister Phyllis, was put
in charge of Seagram's new headquarters, the famed, iconic
Seagram Building on Park Avenue which continued to draw admirers
to its airy plaza.
Bronfman, who was married five times including two times to
the same woman, made bold-faced headlines in 1975 when his son
Samuel was kidnapped and Bronfman himself delivered more than $2
million in ransom. The kidnappers were arrested and convicted of
lesser charges, according to the Times.
Bronfman turned Seagram over to his son Edgar Bronfman Jr.,
who became president of Seagram in 1989 and chief executive in
1994 and moved the company into entertainment. Seagram's
beverage division was eventually acquired by Pernod Ricard and
Bronfman died of natural causes, the New York Times
reported, citing the family's Samuel Bronfman Foundation.
(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Andrew Heavens)