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Ambassador Harriman dead from cerebral hemorrhage

February 5, 1997
Web posted at: 10:21 a.m. EST (1521 GMT)

PARIS (CNN) -- U.S. Ambassador to France Pamela Harriman died Wednesday two days after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage, an aide said. She had been in intensive care at the American Hospital in Neuilly, a Paris suburb, since Monday.

Harriman, who would have turned 77 next month, did not have a history of health problems.

She was appointed to the post in May 1993, and had been planning to leave the ambassadorship by mid-year.

She leaves behind a wealth of people who either admired her charisma or belittled her accomplishments, both in her ambassadorship and in her life.

The United States praised her diplomatic skills in handling disputes over trade, Bosnia, NATO, the Middle East, Africa and CIA spying.

Some of the French, meanwhile, looked upon her as a lightweight, more form than substance, fluent in French but not in international policy; hostess of the most lavish parties the embassy has seen, but unable to comment on U.S. policy in Bosnia.

Nonetheless, in 1996 France made her a Commander of the Legion of Honor's Order of Arts and Letters, the country's highest cultural award. Harriman said the award made her feel "very humble, and very proud."

Affairs with the rich and powerful

Harriman's life was equally scrutinized for her many liaisons. Her second husband once called her "the greatest courtesan of the 20th century," the Irish Times reported. "She loved men, and men loved her, and she knew how to please men," said Garry Clifford, the Washington bureau chief of People Magazine.


Born Pamela Digby, her first of three marriages was to Randolph Churchill, a journalist and son of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, during World War II. Later, she would tell stories about sleeping in a double-decker bunk in a bomb shelter while pregnant with Randolph's child -- "One Churchill above me, another inside," she said. movie icon (1.4 MB/40 sec. QuickTime movie)

Although she got along well with her husband's father, the Digby-Churchill union would not last. Randolph, a hard drinker, philandered throughout the marriage; Pamela also dallied with a number of men -- millionaire American diplomat Averell Harriman, Italian billionaire Gianni Agnelli, and journalist Edward Murrow, to name a few.

Churchill and wife divorced at the end of the war, five years after they wed.

After another succession of affairs with millionaires who paid for her lavish lifestyle and an elegant Paris apartment, she next married famed Broadway producer Leland Hayward ("Gypsy" and "The Sound of Music"). Their marriage lasted until his death in 1971, when she found she had almost no money left.

A late entry into politics

Six months after Hayward's death, she married Averell Harriman, then almost 80 years old.

Her newest husband, a former New York governor and ambassador to Britain and the Soviet Union, got his bride interested in politics and the Democratic party, which during the Reagan years had lost its drive and its direction. She hosted dinner parties to mend her husband's party, with grace and skill.

"Almost anybody who was asked was going to come to one of the gatherings at her spectacular house," said political analyst Norman Ornstein. "She had an ability to attract people around her, and a willingness to try to be a catalyst for the Democratic party."

She spoke at the 1984 convention, supported the Michael Dukakis campaign and Al Gore's 1992 presidential campaign, then worked hard raising money -- $12 million -- for young governor Bill Clinton when he won the party's nomination.

Her reward for her constant support was the ambassadorship to France. According to former State Department official Richard Holbrooke, she was a natural for the post.

"She spoke the language, she knew the country, she knew its leadership. She was one of the best ambassadors that ever served the United States," he said.

Not many women could have journeyed so far -- from the English countryside to diplomat in Paris -- with a formal education that ended at the age of 16.

But, says historian Michael Beschloss, "She was very graceful, and graceful in a lot of different worlds," a woman just as able to move through Winston Churchill's world during a world war as to maneuver through diplomatic life in Paris.

Correspondent Bruce Morton contributed to this report.  

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