Armand Hammer dies capitalist was Soviet hero

December 11, 1990|By ASSOCIATD PRESS

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Armand Hammer, the socialist's son who became a titan of American capitalism and a tireless crusader for world peace and a cancer cure, died last night. He was 92.

He died at his home after a brief illness, said Frank Ashley, a spokesman for Mr. Hammer's Occidental Petroleum Corp.

The affable Mr. Hammer was a self-made millionaire by the time he graduated from Columbia University medical school at age 23. Throughout a life of international wheeling and dealing, he was on a first-name basis with world leaders from Vladimir Lenin to Ronald Reagan.

His empire rested in Occidental, based in Los Angeles. He bought the tottering company for $100,000 in 1957, during a try at retirement, then turned it into the nation's seventh-largest oil company.

His death was expected to touch off a struggle for control of the corporation that the charismatic Mr. Hammer, as its chairman, ran as a personal fiefdom.

Ray Irani, Occidental president and chief operating officer, became the new chairman immediately, the company said.

Mr. Hammer died one night before he was to have celebrated his bar mitzvah, 79 years late, at a star-studded ceremony and fund-raiser.

Mr. Hammer was pardoned in 1989 by President Bush for making illegal contributions to President Richard M. Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972. He had sought a pardon since pleading guilty to the charges in 1976 and being sentenced to one year's probation and fined $3,000.

Mr. Hammer was in the forefront of negotiating huge deals with communist countries to develop untapped natural resources.

He made several fortunes in his lifetime and made large charitable donations. "The only reason I make money is so I can give it away," he was fond of saying.

Mr. Hammer said he had two dreams: a cure for cancer and peace between East and West. After the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Soviet Union, he arranged visits by U.S. specialists in bone-marrow transplants, an important technique for saving lives of radiation victims.

He gave millions of dollars to cancer research, and President Ronald Reagan named him chairman of the President's Cancer Panel.

Occidental spent $96 million on the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture to house his art, which Mr. Hammer estimated to be worth more than $400 million.

Mr. Hammer was born in 1898 in a cold-water flat in New York City's Lower East Side. His great-grandfather built warships for Czar Nicholas I, while his Russian-born father was a doctor and a founder of the American Socialist Party.

But Mr. Hammer was a staunch capitalist who was fond of saying of his communist business partners: "I tell them in no uncertain terms that I don't think their system works. . . . But that doesn't keep us from doing business."

After serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in World War I, Mr. Hammer went to medical school at night and worked during the day to bail out the family's small, nearly bankrupt drug firm. He turned it into a million-dollar company.

After the Bolshevik Revolution, he worked out a deal to trade surplus U.S. grain for Soviet products.

Overnight Mr. Hammer became a Soviet hero.

Mr. Hammer was married three times and had one child, Julian, by his first wife. His third wife, Frances, died in 1989.

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