Fallen media mogul Leo Kirch dies

Fallen media mogul Leo Kirch dies
Photo: DPA
German media mogul Leo Kirch died on Thursday at the age of 84, ending the spectacular rise and fall of a man who built an empire only to see it crumble.

“He died this morning in Munich,” a family spokesman said, indicating that the long-time diabetes sufferer had simply died of old age.

The spokesman declined to give details on the passing of Kirch, a feared media mogul who built a vast empire before declaring a thunderous bankruptcy in April 2002.

Since then, Kirch kept dreaming of rebuilding his media group and was quoted as saying: “You can fall seven times, as long as you get up an eighth time.”

Starting small in the mid 1950s, Kirch launched his group at the age of 29 with a loan from family members by acquiring the German rights to the film “La Strada,” a masterpiece by Italian film-maker Federico Fellini.

By the end of 1959, Kirch owned the German rights to around 400 US films he had bought from United Artists and Warner Brothers. Tens of thousands of films and television programmes are now stocked in a climate controlled safe near Munich.

The KirchMedia group included the TV broadcaster ProSiebenSat1 and the pay channel Sky once called Premiere, but Kirch was finally unable to refinance massive debts and his empire crumbled in April 2002.

Kirch, who had controlled broadcast rights to Bundesliga football matches, two World Cups and Formula 1 auto races, also held at one point 40 percent of the media group Axel Springer, which publishes Germany’s popular daily Bild.

He tried to stage a comeback in 2007 by negotiating a €3-billion ($4.3-billion) deal to buy the Bundesliga rights again for five years but was rejected by the national competition watchdog authority.

Up to the end, Kirch cut a figure as an old-fashioned wheeler-dealer, with slicked back hair and piercing eyes, a throwback to the movie star looks of his youth.

But he was also the modest son of a Bavarian tinsmith and winemaker, and a devout Catholic who did not seek to mingle constantly with the glittering world of modern media.

Friends described him as a courteous lover of the arts, while critics saw a dark, calculating and irrational man.

A friend of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, Kirch was also well connected with conservative Bavarian politicians. Following his bankruptcy, Kirch became a staunch opponent of Deutsche Bank, which he accused of having been responsible for his downfall and sued for €3.5 billion in damages and interest.

He lived with his wife Ruth, whom he married in 1956, but did not groom their son Thomas to take over the media empire.

The amount of the family’s fortune was unknown but in 2009, Kirch was no longer one of the 300 richest Germans according to a list compiled by the weekly Manager Magazin.


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