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October 14, 2009 6:06 PM

Bruce Wasserstein, Lazard Chief and former American Lawyer Owner, Dies

Posted by Ed Shanahan

Bruce Wasserstein, 61, the chairman and chief executive of Lazard, died Wednesday after being hospitalized earlier in the week for what was described as an irregular heartbeat, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday afternoon. The cause of death was not immediately known, according to several press reports.

As one of Wall Street's best known investment bankers, Wasserstein, a onetime lawyer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, worked on some of the biggest deals of the past three decades, including the $25 billion takeover of RJR Nabisco by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (the takeover was chronicled in Bryan Burroughs's 1998 book Barbarians at the Gate).

"Perhaps more importantly," reports the New York Times, "he transformed deal-making from a business built on relationships, as practiced by forebears like Andre Meyer and Felix Rohatyn of Lazard, into one built on high-priced free agency."

Wasserstein took over as head of Lazard in 2002; he took the company public in 2005 and was named CEO.

In addition to his work at Lazard, Wasserstein served as chairman of Wasserstein & Co., a private investment firm with stakes in companies ranging from Penton Media Inc., a publisher of trade magazines, to gourmet food seller Harry & David. He was the brother of Wendy Wasserstein, a Tony award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright who died in 2006

Bruce Wasserstein's influence extended beyond the world of investment banking. Over the past decade, he also assumed a position as one of New York City's high profile media moguls, launching The Deal, a trade magazine for and about dealmakers, and acquiring New York magazine in 2004 with a surprise bid. According to Bloomberg, in 1997 he paid $63 million for The American Lawyer and $200 million for National Law Publishing Co., and later sold those publications to Incisive Media of the U.K. for $630 million.

Prior to Wasserstein’s death, Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $2 billion.

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