Diet and exercise became a new priority for Milken, who recovered from the disease and started a foundation that has raised more than $350 million for cancer research. He has also donated millions more for scholarship and education programs, and launched the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute, an economic think tank.
In 2000, Milken made a push for a pardon from Clinton. Among those who supported his effort was a surprising name: Giuliani. A prostate cancer survivor, Giuliani said he appreciated the work that Milken had done to search for a cure.
But Clinton chose not to grant the pardon. A former administration official told The Times that Clinton made his decision in large part because of opposition from law enforcement, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. attorney in New York.
This time around, as Bush reviewed the cases of dozens of clemency candidates before leaving office, many people considered Milken to have a reasonably good shot.
"You could find very few people in America who for the last 15 years have been more philanthropic or lived their life with more integrity than Michael Milken," said Leo Hindery, the former president of AT&T Broadband who now heads investment firm InterMedia Partners.
A few months ago, Von Eschenbach, a Bush appointee, wrote the Justice Department to recommend Milken's pardon. A former director of the National Cancer Institute, Von Eschenbach said it was his own idea to write the letter, based on Milken's support for prostate cancer research.
By publicly discussing his battle with prostate cancer, Milken helped encourage men to be tested so victims could be treated early, cancer experts said.
George Wilding, director of the University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center, said deaths from prostate cancer have decreased significantly since Milken brought attention and funding to fighting the disease.
"His foundation very quickly drew many outstanding scientists who were not thinking about prostate cancer to start thinking about it," Wilding said.
Bush offered no explanation for his decision to deny Milken's pardon, but Harvard law professor Alan M. Dershowitz said he had a good idea.
"Very simple. It's two words: Marc Rich," Dershowitz said, speaking of the fugitive financier whose pardon by outgoing President Clinton sparked a federal probe. "The Marc Rich pardon made it very difficult for Bush to pardon anybody who is perceived to be wealthy."
Dershowitz said Milken's philanthropy had made him deserving of a pardon, and he asserted that Milken's financial wisdom could help the nation recover from the current banking crisis.
Moore, Milken's spokesman, would not say whether Milken intended to reapply for a pardon from President Obama.
"He never looks back," Moore said. "He's a person who tries to think positively and always be productive. He's focused on the many challenges ahead -- accelerating medical solutions, reforming education, contributing creative ideas for economic recovery."