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Israel Asper, 71; Canadian Media Mogul, Philanthropist

October 09, 2003|From Associated Press

TORONTO — Israel Asper, a philanthropist and multimillionaire businessman who founded Canada's largest media empire, has died. He was 71.

Asper died Tuesday, shortly after being admitted to St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba. No cause of death was given.

The patriarch of CanWest Global Communications, Asper was known in his hometown of Winnipeg as a major supporter of cultural and Jewish causes. He was instrumental in plans to open a human rights museum in downtown Winnipeg.

Asper, known as Izzy, retired from a day-to-day role at CanWest Global this year but continued as a part-time board chairman, focusing on long-term planning. He also devoted more attention to two charities -- the Asper Foundation and the CanWest Global Foundation.

Israel Harold Asper was born in 1932 in Minnedosa in western Manitoba. His parents were musicians who owned rural movie theaters, where Asper worked as an usher before the family moved to Winnipeg, where he went to college.

A tax lawyer by training, Asper created CanWest Capital, western Canada's first merchant bank, and then founded CKND, a tiny television station he purchased in North Dakota and shipped piece by piece to Winnipeg.

Asper also held an early stake in Toronto-based Global television. He eventually bought Global outright and built it into a national television network.

In 2000, Asper paid $2.2 billion (U.S.) for the Southam newspaper group and other assets from Conrad Black's Hollinger Inc. CanWest Global now owns 11 major metropolitan dailies in Canada, including the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal and Vancouver Sun.

Throughout his career, Asper remained fiercely loyal to Manitoba and Winnipeg. Thanks to large donations, the Asper family name is on a handful of public buildings in Winnipeg, including a Jewish educational and cultural center and the University of Manitoba's business school.

His strong views on politics and international affairs made him a controversial media manager. Shortly after obtaining the Southam and Hollinger newspapers, Asper's CanWest head office issued mandatory editorials for the chain that prompted protests at some newspapers.

Asper headed the Manitoba Liberal Party from 1970 to 1975 and was a member of the provincial legislature from 1972 to 1975.

He is survived by his wife, Ruth, and three children, Leonard, David and Gail.

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