Businessman, arts patron Sidney Harman dies at 92

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Audio-equipment millionaire Sidney Harman, who bought Newsweek magazine last year and oversaw its merger with the Daily Beast, died Tuesday night in Washington. He was 92.

Mr. Harman died of complications from leukemia, according to a family statement posted on the Daily Beast website. He learned of his illness about a month ago.

“He died in Washington, D.C., a city he loved and supported in so many ways, surrounded by his wife and children,” the family wrote.

Mr. Harman was the founder of Harman International Industries, which was based in Washington for years. A planned 2007 sale of the company for about $8 billion was scuttled during turmoil in the credit markets.

Now, the parent company of numerous electronics brands — including Harman Kardon, JBL and Infinity — and GPS products is based in Stamford, Conn. Mr. Harman retired in 2008 but continued to serve as chairman emeritus.

In the Newsweek deal, Mr. Harman paid The Washington Post Co. $1 for the money-losing newsweekly, and the Post Co. agreed to cover up to $10 million of the magazine’s debt.

Three months later, Mr. Harman’s negotiations helped install veteran editor Tina Brown as Newsweek’s editor in chief to lead its merger with the Daily Beast. Mr. Harman said the merger provided an “ideal combination of established journalism authority and bright, bristling website savvy.”

Mr. Harman was a philanthropist, arts patron and familiar face in Washington’s social scene. He rarely missed the annual Kennedy Center Honors gala. He was married to former Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, who recently left Congress to lead the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In 2007, Mr. Harman gave nearly $20 million to build a new home for Washington’s popular Shakespeare Theatre Company. Sidney Harman Hall, with an ultramodern glass façade and dark mahogany auditorium, is named in his honor, as is the theater company’s Harman Center for the Arts.

At the time, Mr. Harman told the Associated Press he was particularly proud of the theater’s downtown location, which could draw a young, diverse audience.

“We believe it critical to encourage the creation of new expressions of all of the performing arts,” Mr. Harman said in a 2007 interview. If not, he said, “we’re going to go culturally bankrupt.”

Mr. Harman said he made the gift because he loves the arts, not because he wanted a building named after him.

“In truth, my wife pressed for it,” he said. “I think she’s thinking of it as a nice memorial.”

He was active and physically fit into his 90s, friends said. He and Mrs. Harman led family vacations with their children and grandchildren and kept a home near Los Angeles.

Mr. Harman was born in Montreal in 1918 and moved with his family to New York. He made his fortune in the 1950s as an audio pioneer.

In 1977, he joined the Carter administration as deputy secretary of commerce.

Stuart Eizenstat, a longtime friend who was President Carter’s chief domestic policy adviser, said Mr. Harman was a “true Renaissance man” who could quote lengthy sonnets from Shakespeare at dinner parties and deftly navigate the worlds of business and government.

Sidney always had a smile on his face, was always upbeat and was really an inspiration for a whole generation of people both in government and in the private sector,” Mr. Eizenstat said.

At the Commerce Department, Mr. Harman energized the agency with a pro-business ethic and stressed imports for the first time, Mr. Eizenstat said.

“He was a pro-business Democrat but with a great social conscious,” Mr. Eizenstat said. “It’s an enormous loss, but Sidney lived a very full and complete life.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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