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Armand Hammer Dies; Billionaire, Art Patron : Industrialist: The career of the 92-year-old entrepreneur who led Occidental oil spanned seven decades.

December 11, 1990|From a Times Staff Writer

Armand Hammer, the financial entrepreneur whose extraordinary career spanned seven decades and half a dozen different businesses and whose avocation as a collector of art added to an already controversial life, died Monday at his home in Westwood.

Hammer, 92, died following a brief illness, said a spokesman for Occidental Petroleum Corp.

Although he had designated a successor, Hammer remained chairman and chief executive of Los Angeles-based Occidental, a company he built from a nearly bankrupt wildcat drilling firm into the 16th largest industrial corporation in the nation.

Rumors about his health had surfaced periodically since he had a pacemaker implant in November, 1989, but each time he recovered from whatever ailment he might have been battling and appeared in public, successfully putting those rumors to rest.

His last appearance was this month at a party celebrating the opening of what proved his final dream, the Armand Hammer Museum and Cultural Center in Westwood.

He had scheduled one final event but did not live to attend--his bar mitzvah, which was scheduled for today . That ceremony, which normally signals the entry of a Jewish male into manhood at age 13, was to have been a fund raiser for two Jewish institutions. Hammer explained the 79-year delay in the ceremony by saying that his socialist father had dispensed with religious observances when he was a child.

"He touched so many of our lives and careers that his creativity, enthusiasm and unyielding sense of optimism will be sorely missed," said Dr. Ray Irani who has been elected to succeed Hammer as chairman and chief executive officer of Occidental.

The billionaire industrialist had cut a flamboyant swath throughout his colorful and varied career. A public figure comfortable with royalty, heads of state, the rich and famous, he stirred up controversy among not only ardent admirers of his keen intelligence and bold strategies but also scathing critics who questioned his ethics and powerful ego. A man of immense wealth, he endowed schools, museums and cancer research centers with gifts totaling tens of millions of dollars.

He maintained his daunting schedule until his death. An inveterate world traveler, he concluded major contracts for Occidental with foreign governments, made frequent public appearances at home and abroad, bought art for his estimated $450-million art collection and received countless awards and honors.

In addition, because of his early ties with the Soviet Union, Hammer retained access to that country's leaders which were remarkable for a private U.S. citizen. In 1980, for example, after the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan precipitated a crisis between the two countries, Hammer met with then Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev.

In a self-appointed quest for peace, Hammer attempted to persuade Brezhnev to pull his troops out of the country and afterward clarified for reporters Brezhnev's comments on the situation. He continued to make trips to Moscow throughout much of the 1980s in what he described as efforts to find a solution to the conflict, which eventually was resolved with a Soviet pullout from the country.

In 1986, following the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster, Hammer helped arrange and pay for the emergency visit of an international bone marrow transplant team to aid the victims of radiation.

And in 1988 Hammer rushed to the Soviet Union with a planeload of relief aid, including $1-million in checks and several million dollars in emergency medical supplies, following the earthquake that ravaged Soviet Armenia.

Hammer was such a frequent visitor to Moscow that the Soviets maintained a luxurious private apartment for him in an otherwise drab-looking building on a quiet, dead-end street about five minutes from the Kremlin. Across the street for many years was the famous Tretyakov art gallery.

Asked how a man his age mustered the prodigious energy to constantly circle the globe in his Boeing 727 private aircraft to meet with various heads of state, Hammer said, "I love my work. I can't wait to start a new day. I never wake up without being full of ideas. Everything is a challenge. I love to negotiate, to make a deal, to accomplish what I'm after."

While Hammer's career with Occidental was his final and most satisfying one, it was only the most recent in a series of successful ventures that began when he was a student.

Born in the Bronx in 1898, Hammer was the son of a physician and small businessman, Julian Hammer, a radical socialist and a power in the Socialist Labor Party.

Educated as a medical doctor at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, Armand Hammer salvaged his family's faltering pharmaceutical business by day while studying at night.

He ended up earning $1 million before he graduated in 1921, in part by buying vast quantities of whiskey just before Prohibition and selling it later as medicine to drugstores. He never practiced medicine.

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