Edgar Bronfman Sr., Billionaire Jewish Philanthropist, Dead at 84

Under his son Edgar, Seagram made a short-lived foray into the entertainment industry

Billionaire businessman Edgar Bronfman, Sr., a prominent philanthropist and advocate for Jewish causes who oversaw Seagram’s foray into show business, died Saturday at his home in New York. He was 84.

His death, of natural causes, was confirmed by the family’s Samuel Bronfman Foundation.

Bronfman, the son of Canadian liquor magnate Sam Bronfman, chaired the Seagram alcohol company and through his foundation promoted Jewish learning and community across the world. He’s also the father of Edgar Bronfman, Jr., the former head of Warner Music Group.

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Edgar Jr. helped steer Seagram into the entertainment business in the 1990s. Seagram took over MCA and its movie, music and theme park businesses in 1995, including Universal Pictures. But the venture needed a strategic partner, and Edgar Jr. became an executive with Vivendi after  controversial all-stock acquisition by French conglomerate. Seagram relinquished control of the entertainment business.

Bronfman Sr. served as president of the World Jewish Congress from 1981 until 2007, and lobbied the Soviets to allow Jews to emigrate and helped spearhead the search for hidden Nazi loot.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded Bronfman the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In the citation, he was heralded for working “to ensure basic rights for Jews around the world.”