Inventor of Today Contraceptive Sponge Apparently Commits Suicide ERds: SUBS 2nd graf to add age.

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) _ The inventor of the Today contraceptive sponge, who made millions and ran for the U.S. Senate but later fell on hard times, apparently committed suicide, authorities said.

The body of Bruce Vorhauer, 50, was found in his car Thursday evening near Montana Highway 93, across from his island mansion on Salmon Lake, Missoula County Sheriff Doug Chase said. Vorhauer's caretaker found the body.

A rubber hose led from the car's exhaust into a window, Chase said. ''There was a note that dealt with the matter at hand,'' he said.

Vorhauer's self-made millions recently crumbled, and he filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy action. He went to court to save his mansion from a sheriff's sale but maintained he was solvent.

Court documents listed assets of $18.02 million and debts of $3.2 million.

In early September, a judge in Seattle ruled that Vorhauer intentionally set fire to his 85-foot yacht and boathouse in June 1991 and was not entitled to a $1.3 million insurance claim.

U.S. District Judge William Dwyer said Vorhauer's action ''reflects the anguished reaction to the extreme pain and hopelessness of his financial situation.''

Vorhauer also fell behind on the $647,000 mortgage on the Sourdough Island mansion he built in the mid-1980s.

He tried to sell the yacht but there was no buyer at the asking price. After the yacht burned, the insurance company balked at paying the $1.3 million claim and sued Vorhauer, contending the fire was not an accident.

As Vorhauer fought the lawsuit, other creditors closed in.

In 1990, Vorhauer had sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. He defeated in the primary by former Lt. Gov. Allen Kolstad, who went on to a landslide loss to Democrat Max Baucus.

Before moving to Montana about eight years ago, Vorhauer founded and was chief executive officer of VLI Corp. of Irvine, Calif., a company that developed and sold the contraceptive sponge. He left the company in 1987.

In western Montana, he founded and served as director of Basic Biosystems, a Missoula research laboratory. He also was involved with a business that manufactured vitamins and health products, was part owner of a motel in Missoula and founded the First Valley Bank of Seeley Lake.

Vorhauer's body was taken to the State Crime Lab in Missoula, where an autopsy was scheduled.