Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., the billionaire businessman and longtime president of the World Jewish Congress, which lobbied the Soviets to allow Jews to emigrate and helped spearhead the search for hidden Nazi loot, died yesterday. He was 84. The Canadian-born Bronfman made his fortune with his family's Seagram's liquor empire, taking over as chairman and CEO in 1971 and continuing the work of his father, Samuel. Under Bronfman's leadership, Seagram expanded its offerings and was eventually acquired by Vivendi Universal in 2000.
But Bronfman's wealth, combined with his role in the World Jewish Congress, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations in some 80 countries that he led for more than a quarter century, allowed him to be a tireless advocate for his fellow Jews. "He was the first of his kind, a titan of industry that dedicated himself fully to advocating, advancing, and encouraging the Jewish people," said Dana Raucher, executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. In 1999, President Clinton awarded Bronfman the Presidential Medal of Freedom, citing him for working "to ensure basic rights for Jews around the world." In a 1986 AP profile, he said his position and money gave him access to world leaders. "In the end, it doesn't really matter why that access is available, as long as it is there," Bronfman said. (Read more Edgar Bronfman stories.)