Bruce Wasserstein Dies at 61

Bruce Wasserstein, who died Wednesday at age 61, was known as one of Wall Street’s most voracious dealmakers.

Bruce Wasserstein, who died Wednesday at age 61, was known mainly as one of Wall Street’s most voracious dealmakers, but also had links to the beauty and media worlds.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Wasserstein, chairman and chief executive officer of investment firm Lazard, was hospitalized over the weekend with an irregular heartbeat, according to press reports. A Lazard spokeswoman confirmed Wasserstein’s death Wednesday, although the cause could not be confirmed at press time.

Wasserstein, a former corporate lawyer, advised on some of the biggest corporate takeovers during the Eighties, including Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts’ acquisition of RJR Nabisco, which was chronicled in the bestseller “Barbarians at the Gate.”

A New York native and a graduate of University of Michigan, Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, Wasserstein started his career as an attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. In 1977, he moved to Wall Street, joining the mergers and acquisitions team at First Boston. In 1988, he founded Wasserstein Perella Group Inc., with First Boston associate Joseph Perella. The firm’s deals included the purchase of Maybelline Co., from Schering-Plough Corp., for $300 million in 1990. After the firm reduced its stake in the company over time, Maybelline was acquired by L’Oréal in 1996 for $508 million.

In January 2001, Wasserstein Perella Group Inc. was sold to Dresdner Bank and became Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. A year later, Wasserstein left to join Lazard.

After amassing great wealth in finance, Wasserstein acquired several media properties. He formed American Lawyer Media in 1997, a conglomerate of legal and real estate publications, and sold the group of titles to Incisive Media in 2007 for nearly $630 million. He also owned M&A publication The Deal, and bought New York magazine in 2003 for $55 million. Wasserstein reportedly put the weekly culture title in a trust in the names of his children.

“We’re shocked and saddened by the loss of Bruce Wasserstein. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends and share in their grief,” said Adam Moss and Larry Burstein, editor in chief and publisher, respectively, of New York magazine.

Wasserstein is survived by his wife, Angela Chao, and seven children, one of which is the daughter of his sister, playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who passed away in 2006.