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Press Baron Lord Rothermere Dies

September 2, 1998

LONDON (AP) _ He was the last English press baron: a bullish, sometimes eccentric aristocrat who built the newspaper company founded by his great-uncle into a publishing powerhouse _ and kept it in family hands.

Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and London’s Evening Standard, died of a heart attack at age 73, his office said Wednesday.

The third Viscount Rothermere died Tuesday night in St. Thomas’s Hospital in London.

A tall, gregarious figure, Rothermere dominated the press world for more than 30 years, turning the family firm, Associated Newspapers, into a powerhouse that encompasses magazines, specialist financial publications and the second-largest portfolio of regional newspapers in Britain.

In 1971, the year after he became company chairman, he made Fleet Street history by relaunching the ailing broadsheet Daily Mail as a tabloid and turning it into a mass-selling read for the middle market, particularly the growing number of young career women.

Fleet Street was home to Britain’s newspapers before they fled to the city’s outskirts.

Even rivals had praise for the man who once said he would like to be remembered as someone ``who helped to bring back an appreciation that good journalism could succeed.″

Lord Hollick, publisher of the Daily Express, which lost a protracted circulation war to the Daily Mail, said Wednesday that Rothermere was ``the quintessential proprietor, passionate for his papers, robust in his views and commercially courageous.″ He said Rothermere ``inspired the revolution in mid-market papers in the last 20 years.″

Born on Aug. 27, 1925, the son of the second Viscount Rothermere, Vere Harold Esmond Harmsworth attended Eton before launching his publishing career with a stint in a Canadian paper mill to learn about newsprint.

He joined Associated Newspapers in 1951, working his way up through the company that had been formed in 1896 when his great-uncle Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, launched the Daily Mail for Britain’s growing middle-class readership.

When Lord Northcliffe died, control passed to Rothermere’s father, Esmond Harmsworth.

After Lord Rothermeretook control, he closed the ailing Daily Sketch and appointed its editor, David English, the editor of the Daily Mail. Together, they transformed the newspaper.

Under Rothermere, Associated Newspapers saw its annual sales rise from $87 million to more than $1.6 billion.

In 1980, Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch beat him to the purchase of The Times of London, but the two men remained on good terms. Murdoch said Wednesday that Rothermere’s death was ``a tremendous loss for the media industry.″

An amateur poet and devotee of Zen Buddhism, Rothermere was the only product of Britain’s great publishing clans to retain control of the family business.

He lived in France to escape British taxes and maintained a mistress for many years, despite a solid marriage to the actress Patricia ``Bubbles″ Brooks.

Always an independent thinker, in May 1997 he quit the Conservative Party benches in the House of Lords for Labor, which had just taken power in a landslide election victory. He said Tony Blair’s new government ``seems to me set to do great things.″

After his wife’s in 1992, Rothermere married his mistress, Maiko Lee. She survives him with his son, Johnathan, 30, who takes over at Associated Newspapers, two daughters and a stepdaughter, all from his first marriage.

Funeral details were not immediately available.

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