Billionaire philanthropist David Rockefeller, former head of Chase Manhattan Corp. and patriarch of one of the most famous and influential American families, died on Monday, a family spokesman said. He was 101.
Rockefeller, who reportedly gave away nearly US$2 billion in his lifetime, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure at his home in Pocantico Hills, New York, spokesman Fraser Seitel said in a statement, Reuters reports.
One of the few remaining links to the US “gilded” era of robber barons, he was the son of John D. Rockefeller Jr., who developed New York’s Rockefeller Center, and was the last living grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil and the family dynasty.
He also embodied an era when globe-trotting bank chiefs worked with the world’s most powerful politicians.
During his time as head of Chase from 1969 to 1981, Rockefeller forged such a network of close relationships with governments and multinational corporations that observers said the bank had its own foreign policy.
The Rockefeller name came to symbolize unpopular US banking policies in debtor countries, and Rockefeller was scorned on the left for working with Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and the shah of Iran.
He also was viewed with anger on the right for pushing to open trade with China and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The Trilateral Commission, a group Rockefeller founded in 1973 to foster relations between North America, Japan and Western Europe, came to be a regular target of the far-right and conspiracy theorists who said it was trying to create a one-world government.
Rockefeller became embroiled in an international incident when in 1979 he and long-time friend Henry Kissinger helped persuade President Jimmy Carter to admit the shah of Iran to the United States for treatment of lymphoma, helping precipitate the Iran hostage crisis.
Born in Manhattan as the youngest of six siblings, Rockefeller spent his childhood in New York City and at the family’s estates, and recalled meeting such luminaries as Charles Lindbergh, Admiral Richard Byrd and Sigmund Freud.
His ties to the internationally famous continued throughout his adulthood, symbolized by his famed 100,000-card Rolodex, housed in its own room next to his office in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.
The site of the nine-story mansion where he was born, then New York’s largest residence, is now part of the Museum of Modern Art, which his mother, Abby, helped found in 1929.
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