Rebozo, confidant of Nixon, dies at 85 Men shared activities of leisure, business

May 10, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Charles "Bebe" Rebozo, a self-made Florida millionaire who met Richard M. Nixon in 1950 and became his close friend, died Friday night at Baptist Hospital in Miami. He was 85 years old, born two months before Mr. Nixon, the man who became the 37th president of the United States.

The Rebozo-Nixon relationship flourished on a shared history of hardscrabble beginnings in the Depression -- one man's in Florida, the other's in California -- and innate reserve.

Over more than four decades, through Mr. Nixon's triumphs and disasters, Mr. Rebozo remained the quiet, loyal friend, never questioning and never judging Mr. Nixon's actions.

In 1960, Mr. Rebozo was the only outsider in Mr. Nixon's suite at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Mr. Nixon learned he had lost the presidential election to John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Rebozo later paid a price for his friendship: years of intrusive examinations of his private and professional life by Senate and federal investigators of the Watergate affair that led to Mr. Nixon's resignation in disgrace, a microscopic study of his finances by the news media and notoriety.

Through it all, he kept his own counsel.

Mr. Rebozo, the son of a Cuban immigrant, was a real estate developer, then a banker. His initial meeting with Mr. Nixon occurred by chance. George Smathers, a classmate from Miami High School who had just won election to the Senate as a Democrat campaigning as a vehement anti-Communist in the red-hunting era of Joe McCarthy, asked Mr. Rebozo to entertain a newly elected senator from California. That was Mr. Nixon, who had also won largely as an anti-Communist candidate.

Mr. Rebozo offered to take Mr. Nixon fishing aboard the Cocolobo, his 33-foot Chris Craft. Mr. Nixon, never a sport fisherman, took along a pile of papers to work on.

"I doubt if I exchanged half a dozen words with the guy," Mr. Rebozo recalled 20 years later. But that was enough to cement a friendship, beginning with a warm thank-you note from Mr. Nixon.

In future visits they swam, sunbathed and worked, too. "Dick takes his briefcase, and I take mine," Mr. Rebozo said.

Over the years the friendship flourished in an atmosphere of shared leisure activities. They both liked Broadway show tunes, spectator sports and charcoal-broiled steaks.

Early on, Mr. Rebozo became something of an investment adviser to Mr. Nixon, as well as his real estate broker. Before the 1968 election, Mr. Nixon estimated his assets at $800,000, half of it in Florida real estate that Mr. Rebozo had recommended.

Concerning all of this, Mr. Rebozo was extremely discreet, usually refusing interviews.

"I'm not interested in politics myself," he said in 1970. "He's my friend, and my friend happens to be president. I know that people think because I see him a lot and I'm up there a lot we're talking about affairs of state, and that's not true."

Mr. Rebozo's wealth was estimated to have increased from $673,000 in 1968, when he was still a registered Democrat (he switched that year to the Republicans), to $4 million a few years later. This and his closeness to the president drew the attention of the news media.

As the scandal surrounding the break-in at Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate office complex evolved into the discovery of a White House cover-up, Mr. Rebozo became a target of Senate officials and investigating federal prosecutors.

In 1975, the Justice Department concluded that there was "no basis for indictment" on accusations that Mr. Rebozo had converted Nixon campaign contributions to personal use.

Mr. Rebozo continued to help Mr. Nixon after he had left the White House.

In 1979, he bought an estate for $650,000 in San Clemente, Calif., for the Nixons.

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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