NEW ORLEANS — Norman N. Newhouse, who helped build the world's largest privately held communications empire, including 26 newspapers across the country, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 82.
While the family's holdings expanded widely, taking in Conde Nast Magazines, major book publishing houses and cable television systems, Newhouse remained a shirt-sleeves newspaperman. He usually was at his desk by 6 a.m., company officials said.
For the past 20 years, he was based in New Orleans, although much of his time was spent traveling to Alabama and Ohio to visit Newhouse newspapers there. He did not take a role in the day-to-day operations of the Times-Picayune, the Newhouse group's paper in New Orleans.
Like his brothers, Theodore and the late Samuel I. Newhouse, he shunned the limelight and was little known outside the newspaper business.
"We never went in for titles," Newhouse said in a 1985 interview. "We are, basically, anonymous people. If I were to walk into a room in New Orleans with the 100 most prominent people in town, there may be two who would know me personally. Most would probably know the name and the connection, but they wouldn't know me personally or recognize me by my face because my public position is nonexistent."
This low profile was part of the philosophy he and his brothers adhered to, a philosophy that has continued as other generations of the Newhouse family moved into the top management.
The empire now is run by S.I. Newhouse's two sons, Samuel I. Jr. and Donald. It includes Vogue, Gourmet, Vanity Fair, HG, GQ and the New Yorker magazines, the Parade Sunday newspaper supplement, the Random House book publishing group and cable television systems serving a million homes.
Before moving to New Orleans in 1967, Newhouse was editor of the Long Island Press in Queens, N.Y., and, before that, the Staten Island (N.Y.) Advance.
Newhouse started selling the Bayonne (N.J.) Times when he was 5. The price was a penny a copy, and he was allowed to keep half, plus tips.
Newhouse attended New York University and worked summers in the classified and display advertising departments at the Advance, which S.I. Newhouse had bought in 1922. After graduation, he became a reporter and later city editor and managing editor at the Advance.
Besides the New Orleans operation, Newhouse was responsible for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Birmingham News, the Mobile Press, the Mobile Register, the Mississippi Press in Pascagoula and the Huntsville (Ala.) Times and News.
Four of his five children followed their father into the family business: Mark in Newark, Jonathan with Conde Nast, Peter in New Orleans and Robyn in Springfield, Mass.
In 1971, doctors diagnosed Newhouse with leukemia and told him he had five years to live. Newhouse never considered retirement because, he said, nobody in his family ever did.
Newhouse is survived by his wife, Alice Gross Newhouse; his children; a sister and six grandchildren.
Funeral services were scheduled for Wednesday in New York City.