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Media mogul Kerry Packer dies

By CNN Asia Business Editor Geoff Hiscock

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Obituaries (General)
Kerry Packer
Casinos and Gambling
Sydney (Australia)

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australia's richest man, media and gaming mogul Kerry Packer, has died in Sydney at the age of 68.

His family issued a statement Tuesday morning saying Packer died peacefully at home on Monday night, with his family at his bedside.

Packer, a larger than life character known as a sports fanatic and prodigious gambler, had amassed a fortune of Aust. $6.9 billion ($5.1 billion), according to Australian business magazine BRW's annual rich list.

"Mrs. Kerry Packer and her children James and Gretel sadly report the passing last evening of her husband and their father Kerry," according to a statement released through the Nine television network, which Packer controlled.

His business empire, built around Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd (PBL), includes television, magazines, Internet-related enterprises, Melbourne's Crown Casino and the Burswood Casino in Perth. His interests extended to ski resorts, beef cattle properties, petrochemicals, property investment, resources and engineering.

More recently, he had been developing two casinos in Macau with Hong Kong-based businessman Stanley Ho. They are due to open in 2006 and 2007.

Packer was known as Australia's biggest punter at racetracks and at casinos around the world. He was passionate about sports, playing cricket and polo.

He revolutionized sports television coverage in Australia and throughout the world, with his backing for day-night cricket, golf, tennis and various football codes.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard praised Packer Tuesday as a "great Australian" who dominated the Australian media scene for more than a generation.

"Of all the impressions that he left with me, none was greater or more indelible than his passionate commitment to the interests of Australia," Howard said.

He noted Packer's great philanthropic deeds.

"I know for a fact that many of his kindest and most generous and charitable deeds went unreported, which is precisely how he wished it to be," Howard said.

Fellow media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp., said he was saddened to learn of Packer's death, calling him "the most successful businessman of our generation."

"Kerry was both a lifelong friend and a tough competitor," he said.

Former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell said Tuesday that Packer had made an enormous contribution to sports coverage, with his backing of the breakaway World Series Cricket in the late 1970s that saw the introduction of one-day matches.

In a mark of the respect in which Packer was held in the cricket world, day two of the Test match between Australia and South Africa in Melbourne Tuesday began with a minute's silence for him.

Packer was regarded as among the shrewdest businessmen in Australia. One of his most remarkable deals occurred when he sold the Sydney and Melbourne stations in his Nine television network to Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond in 1987 for A$855 million and $200 million in Bond Media shares. When Bond's fortunes tumbled in 1990, Packer bought back the two stations and two more that Bond owned for just A$200 million ($150 million).

Packer had been in poor health for years, after heart attacks in 1990 and 1995. He underwent a kidney transplant in 2000, with a kidney donated by his helicopter pilot.

In 1990, while playing polo in Sydney, he suffered a heart attack that left him dead for about eight minutes. Packer was revived and famously later told reporters that he had "been to the other side, and there was nothing there."

Packer's poor health continued through the 1990s and 2000s, but earlier this year he effectively resumed running the Nine Network from home, following a ratings slump for the network that has been No. 1 in Australia virtually since television was introduced in 1956.

His son James has been joint chief executive of the family's private holding company, Consolidated Press Holdings, and executive chairman of the listed PBL since 1998, but a costly investment in the failed telephone company One.Tel bruised his business record and saw Kerry Packer return to the fore.

Packer's death is expected to leave a large hole in the Australian media scene. Television personality Ray Martin, who works for the Nine network, said on Australian radio Tuesday that while Packer could be an "absolute tyrant," he was a man of great loyalty, generosity and integrity who probably had done more for sport than any other Australian.

"He will be lovingly remembered and missed enormously. Arrangements for a memorial service will be announced," Nine network executive Tony Ritchie said in the family statement.

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