Mortimer David Sackler was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 7, 1916. His parents were Jewish immigrants — his father, Isaac, from what is now Ukraine and his mother, Sophie, from Poland — who ran a grocery. He went to Erasmus Hall High School, where, as advertising manager of the school newspaper, he persuaded Chesterfield cigarettes to place an ad that earned him a five-dollar weekly commission, no small thing during the Depression.
He graduated from New York University, attended the Anderson College of Medicine in Scotland and received his medical degree from the Middlesex University School of Medicine, which was in Waltham, Mass., on land now occupied by Brandeis University.
His first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Ilene, who lives in Manhattan, he is survived by his brother Raymond, of Greenwich, Conn.; his wife, Theresa, whom he married in 1980; four other daughters, Kathe Sackler, of Weston, Conn., and Samantha Hunt, Marissa Sackler and Sophie Sackler, all of London; two sons, Mortimer D. A. Sackler, of Manhattan, and Michael Sackler, of London; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Dr. Sackler, a specialist in psychobiology, did seminal research in the biology of psychiatric illness in the 1940s and ’50s, and later established research and training institutes in developmental psychobiology at Columbia and Weill Cornell Medical College as well as at four other universities in England, Scotland and Canada.
A native New Yorker, he began his medical education in Scotland because, he said, quotas kept him, as a Jew, from being admitted to medical school in New York. He lived in Europe since the 1970s, and his philanthropy — often along with that of his older brother, Arthur, and his younger brother, Raymond — encompassed both Britain and the Continent.
He was a major donor to Oxford University, Edinburgh University, Glasgow University, the Tate Gallery in London, the Royal College of Art, the Louvre, the Jewish Museum in Berlin and Salzburg University, among other institutions.
In New York, the Sackler brothers were probably best known for the Sackler wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which houses the Temple of Dendur and whose construction they helped finance. Through his foundation, Mortimer Sackler financed the Sackler Center for Arts Education at the Guggenheim, and was a major contributor to the American Museum of Natural History.
The Sackler brothers were all doctors, and all businessmen as well. In 1952, while the three were working at the Creedmoor state psychiatric hospital, Arthur financed the purchase of a small drug manufacturer based in Greenwich Village, the Purdue Frederick Company, which Mortimer and Raymond Sackler ran as co-chairmen and which later became Purdue Pharma, now based in Stamford, Conn. (The brothers later established several drug companies in other countries.)
Arthur Sackler died in 1987, and by the mid-1990s Purdue Pharma was still a small drug company. But with a new product, OxyContin, a powerful, long-acting, narcotic painkiller, the company hoped to join the ranks of industry giants. Indeed, by 2001 sales of the drug had reached nearly $3 billion and accounted for 80 percent of Purdue Pharma’s revenue.