Sidney Harman, the 92-year-old stereo magnate who has been in the headlines for the past year or so for having bravely taken over the struggling Newsweek magazine, died yesterday in Washington, D.C. He was in the company of his wife, former U.S. representative Jane Harman, and his children. In his last weeks he suffered from “complications from acute myeloid leukemia,” a condition he learned about only one month ago. Even after that point, according to his family, he “remained vigorously engaged as Executive Chairman of Newsweek, and Chairman of the Academy for Polymathic Study at the University of Southern California.” (The latter is an institute he founded for people like himself whose interests and expertise spanned many subjects.)
“He was a magical man, full of intellectual curiosity and a desire to see Newsweek reflect the pursuit of ideas,” Tina Brown said in a hastily put-together obituary on the Daily Beast this morning. She’d planned to visit with Harman this morning in Washington. “We very quickly formed both a great editorial relationship and a warm personal friendship. I shall miss him tremendously.”
After buying the floundering newsweekly for a reported one dollar, Harman bid goodbye to longtime editor Jon Meacham and began casting about for the right person to take it over. It was a storied title, after all, but hemorrhaged at least $29 million in 2009. He flirted with a deal with Tina and her Daily Beast at least once before making it official. Though he told outgoing Newsweek writer Jonathan Alter that the magazine was now “on track” to break even, his passing has to rattle the remaining staff there, who have been through a lot of turmoil in the past two years. He pledged to keep the magazine running for several years no matter what the profit profile, but will his family share the same journalistic altruism? Barry Diller, his partner in the merged NewsBeast behemoth, was quick to claim that yes, they would. “Three weeks ago, when he told me of his illness he said he and his family wanted to continue as partners in Newsweek/Beast in all events,” he said, laying it on thick. “We will carry on though will greatly miss his passionate enthusiasm and belief in the venture.” Hear that, family?
Harman is survived by his wife, Jane, and their two children, Daniel and Justine.