John Werner Kluge was born Sept. 21, 1914, in Chemnitz, Germany. His father died in World War I. After his mother remarried, John was brought to America by his German-American stepfather to live in Detroit. The stepfather, Oswald Leitert, put him to work as a boy in the family contracting business.
Mr. Kluge was the creator of Metromedia, the nation’s first major independent broadcasting entity, a conglomerate that grew to include seven television stations, 14 radio stations, outdoor advertising, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Ice Capades, radio paging and mobile telephones.
He made his first billion — it was actually almost two billion — in 1984, when he took Metromedia private in a $1.1 billion leveraged buyout and then liquidated the company, more than tripling his take.
He sold the television stations, including WNEW in New York, for more than $2 billion to Rupert Murdoch, who was expanding his communications empire.
In 1986, Forbes magazine listed Mr. Kluge as the second-richest man in America (after Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart Stores). By this year, after a bankruptcy of the Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale restaurant chains in 2008, Mr. Kluge had dropped to 109th on the Forbes list with a fortune of $6.5 billion
Mr. Kluge graduated from Columbia in 1937 and went to work for a small paper company in Detroit. Within three years he went from shipping clerk to vice president and part owner.
His philanthropy was prodigious. About a half-billion dollars went to Columbia alone, mainly for scholarships for needy and minority students. One gift, of $400 million, was to be given to the university by his estate when he died.
Mr. Kluge also contributed to the restoration of Ellis Island and in 2000 gave $73 million to the Library of Congress, which established the Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanities.
Married three times, he is survived by his son, John W. Kluge II; a daughter, Samantha Kluge, from his second marriage, to Yolanda Galardo Zucco; three stepchildren— Joseph Brad Kluge, whom he adopted, and Diane Townsend Zeier, Jeannette Townsend Brophy and Peter Townsend, the children of Mr. Kluge's first wife, Theodora Thomson Townsend; and a grandson.more » « less