Armand Hammer, 92, who won world renown for his accomplishments in business, art, diplomacy and philanthropy, died of cerebral arteriosclerosis Monday at in his home in Los Angeles. He had heart and kidney ailments.
An entrepreneur with the touch of Midas, Dr. Hammer was board chairman and chief executive officer of the Occidental Petroleum Corp., which he built into a $20 billion food, chemical and energy giant. Educated as a physician, he never practiced medicine. Instead, he made his first million while still in medical school, and he made his mark in the international business world by bartering deals with the Soviet Union.
In the 1950s, when he was considering retiring, he invested $100,000 in Occidental. The company soon struck oil in Libya, and it continued to do business there under Moammar Gadhafi. Its success made Mr. Hammer a legend in the modern business world.
Over his lifetime Dr. Hammer also built an impressive private art collection, which some 6 million people have viewed. He forged business and personal ties with the Soviet Union that date back to Lenin. He became known as a "one-man flying multinational" who had access to the world's most exclusive social and political circles. He was a friend of Britain's Prince Charles and met with Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
He missed his bar mitzvah by a day. The Jewish rite of manhood was scheduled for last night, 79 years after it normally would have been performed. Dr. Hammer said that his father, a socialist, did not follow traditional religious observances. Two rabbis in Beverly Hills were to have performed the ceremony at a benefit that was to be attended by celebrities such as Merv Griffin and Lee Iacocca.
Only weeks ago, Dr. Hammer threw a lavish party for 800 to open the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in Westwood, a suburb of Los Angeles and Occidental's headquarters. He described the completion of the building in only 2 1/2 years as "a miracle."
Dr. Hammer was best known, however, for what he did with Occidental. In 1956, he and his third wife, Frances, invested $100,000 in it. The company was near bankruptcy, and the Hammers regarded their investment as a tax shelter as they neared retirement.
But the oil wells proved rich and Dr. Hammer launched the most flamboyant part of his career, ruling the company with an iron hand. Occidental now has 53,000 employees in 60 countries, and it has grown to be the nation's seventh-largest oil company.
The question of who would succeed Dr. Hammer in running the enterprise came up regularly until last February, when he finally tapped Ray Irani, who had been named president and chief operating officer of Occidental in 1984.
Interest in Dr. Hammer's health was keen because whenever rumors flew that he was on his deathbed, the price of Occidental stock jumped and speculation flared about the future of the company. Dr. Hammer had a long history of health problems and the curiosity intensified when he a pacemaker was implanted in November 1989.
He was a lightning rod for controversy. Just before his death, he faced several shareholder lawsuits concerning the use of Occidental money to build the art museum, whose lobby has a larger-than-life portrait of Dr. Hammer. He settled with shareholders, agreeing to keep the company's contribution under $100 million.
From time to time, shareholders also took him to court to challenge the amount of his compensation and the use of Occidental revenue to pay for several autobiographies and for contributions to charities and causes.
Last summer, the heirs of his wife Frances, who died in 1989 at the age of 87, said Dr. Hammer tricked her into signing away her interest in their $400 million art collection. He denied the allegation.
One of the most famous legal battles Dr. Hammer faced was in 1972, when he pleaded guilty to charges of trying to conceal a $54,000 personal contribution to President Nixon's reelection campaign. Four years later, he was fined $3,000 and placed on probation for a year.
Over the years, he also faced several Securities and Exchange Commission investigations, each of which was settled.
Much of Dr. Hammer's fame and fortune is linked to his relationship with the Soviet Union, which he began cultivating shortly after he finished medical school at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. While waiting to begin an internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, he decided to go to the Soviet Union to speed along his medical career.
He bought a surplus mobile U.S. Army field hospital and took it to the Urals, where famine and typhus were raging. Once in Russia, he got an interview with Lenin, who told him the country needed food more than medical aid.
A barter of American wheat for Russian furs and caviar was arranged, and Dr. Hammer's career as a favored capitalist in a communist country was launched. Lenin also offered him a concession to operate an asbestos mine and, later, a pencil factory. The young physician-turned-tycoon became the trade conduit between the Soviet Union and major U.S. corporations.
Dr. Hammer's contacts with the Soviet Union went beyond the range of trade, and he sometimes drew criticism from Americans who viewed him as an apologist for Moscow. He worked informally to bring about the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, and after the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in 1986, he arranged for an American specialist to go to the Soviet Union to help perform bone marrow transplants. He took credit for helping persuade President Reagan to hold summit talks with Soviet President Gorbachev.
He also continued to do business with the Soviets. In 1973, he arranged a multibillion-dollar chemical fertilizer barter deal with Moscow.
Upon learning of his death, Gorbachev issued a statement saying that "Dr. Hammer was associated with one of the most remarkable pages of our relationship" with the United States. "He met with Lenin and was very close in many ways to the Soviet Union, and to Russia."
By the time he left the Soviet Union in 1931, it was clear his interest in commerce outstripped his desire to practice medicine. He came back to the United States with a cache of Russian art objects to sell in his Manhattan art gallery, including a solid gold Faberge Easter egg that Czar Nicholas II was believed to have commissioned. He also made millions in the whiskey business, and he bred and sold Angus cattle. By 1956, he was thinking about retirement. That was when he made his investment in Occidental.
Armand Hammer was born in New York City on May 21, 1898. His father, a founder of the American Communist Labor Party, was a physician who also ran a small pharmaceutical business. When he was 21, his father was charged with first-degree manslaughter for performing an abortion on a woman who later died. He was convicted and sent to Sing Sing, a penitentiary in New York state.
For years, people erroneously thought Dr. Hammer was connected to the company that makes Arm & Hammer baking soda. Irked by the continuing questions, Dr. Hammer finally worked out a deal in 1986 that gave his Occidental Petroleum Corp. a 5 percent stake in the baking soda company and him a seat on its board.
While in medical school, Dr. Hammer saved his father's pharmaceutical company by buying large quantities of whiskey just before Prohibition went into effect in 1920 and selling it later through drugstores as medicine.
Dr. Hammer was a generous contributor to the arts, particularly in Washington. According to Occidental Petroleum, he donated more than $1 million to the National Symphony Orchestra, and he made notable contributions to the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Ford's Theatre, the Library of Congress and others.
He established the Hammer Prize for Cancer Research, and in 1988 launched the Stop Cancer Campaign to raise an additional $1 billion for cancer research.
His marriage in 1927 to Olga von Root, a Russian singer, ended in divorce, as did a second marriage, to the former Angela Zevely. In 1954 he married Frances Tolman, and she traveled everywhere with him until her death.
Survivors include a son by his first marriage, Julian Hammer of Los Angeles; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.