S.I. Newhouse Jr., media titan who presided over Conde Nast stable, dies

NEW YORK — S.I. Newhouse Jr., the low-profile billionaire media mogul who ran the parent company of some of the nation’s most prestigious magazines, died Sunday. He was 89.

Mr. Newhouse’s death was confirmed by his family, who said he died at his New York home.

The chairman of Conde Nast since 1975, Mr. Newhouse bought and remade the New Yorker and Details magazines and revived Vanity Fair. Other magazines in the Conde Nast stable included Vogue, Wired, Glamour, W, GQ and Self.

Before selling the Random House book publishing empire, he spotted a magazine profile about a rising young real estate mogul and was inspired to commission the first book of a future president, Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.”

Mr. Newhouse brought in buzz-obsessed Britons Anna Wintour and Tina Brown as editors, who became celebrities in their own right, while abruptly firing staffers who fell from his graces. Grace Mirabella learned she was being axed as editor in chief of Vogue in June 1988 when her husband saw it on TV.

Conde Nast under Mr. Newhouse was famously extravagant, paying editors huge salaries, throwing lavish parties and rarely sticking to budgets — if budgets existed at all. Its expense accounts were enormous, with dresses flown from Paris to New York on the Concorde and elephants brought in to menace models at fashion shoots.

“There’s no place on Earth like this,” Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter told New York magazine in 2009. “There’s no place where you’re given the resources you need to do what you want to do and also given complete freedom to do it.”

Conde Nast focused on glossy titles that helped set the nation’s tastes, reached millions of aspirational readers and appealed to upscale advertisers.

“Our magazines represent a certain tone and audience,” Mr. Newhouse told the New York Times in a rare interview in 1988.

He said the company that his father bought in 1959 for $5 million was following in the tradition of its founder, Conde Montrose Nast.

The company has struggled in recent years with the advertising meltdown. Since 2007 it has closed Gourmet, Cookie, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride, House & Garden, Jane, Men’s Vogue, Portfolio, Domino and Golf for Women.

Forbes said in March 2009 that the downturn had sliced Mr. Newhouse’s fortune in half, but his estimated net worth of $4 billion still left him as one of the world’s richest men.

Mr. Newhouse and his brother, Donald, owned Staten Island, N.Y., firm Advance Publications Inc., the owner of Conde Nast, daily newspapers in about 20 cities and a cable television company.

Mr. Newhouse lived with his second wife, Victoria, in a Manhattan apartment and in a house in Bellport, Long Island. Mr. Newhouse had two sons and a daughter by his first wife, Jane Franke.

Deepti Hajela is an Associated Press writer.

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