PARIS — Jean-Luc Lagardère, one of France’s biggest industrialists and owner of the Hachette media empire, died Friday in hospital of a rare neurological disorder. He was 75.

This story first appeared in the March 17, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Hospitalized since last month after hip surgery, Lagardère had two years ago passed on day-to-day operations of his far-flung businesses to his son, Arnaud. He is also survived by his wife, Betty, a Paris society powerhouse and a close friend of designers Karl Lagerfeld and Emanuel Ungaro.

A self-made tycoon, Lagardère began his career as an engineer in the aerospace industry. His holdings include Matra, one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of smart missiles and satellite technology. He was instrumental in forming the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, the world’s second largest aerospace group, of which Lagardère owned 15 percent.

Lagardère branched out into publishing in the Eighties with the acquisition of Hachette, publisher of more than 130 newspapers and magazines in over 30 countries, with titles including Elle and Paris Match. More recently, it has added radio stations, cable television channels, the French chain of Virgin Megastores and the European and Latin American publishing assets of Vivendi Universal.

News of Lagardère’s death dominated French media over the weekend, with tributes pouring in from everyone from French president Jacques Chirac to Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe.

Bernard Arnault, chairman of luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said he was saddened and shocked by the death of his friend. “It is a tremendous loss for our country,” Arnault said. “He was one of the rare French industrialists who was able to bring his group to become among the world leaders.”

A major soccer fan, Lagardère was also known for his horsemanship and was a top breeder, owning some 220 horses.

Arnaud Lagardère, currently co-chief executive officer of Lagardère Group in charge of media activities, will succeed his father and was slated to present the company’s financial results today. Private funeral services for the family are set for Thursday in Normandy.

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