Edgar M. Bronfman Sr. devoted much of his life to advocating for Judaism and Jewish causes.

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Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., who championed Jewish causes, dies at age 84

He led the Seagram Company, started by his father, for 23 years

He visited the Soviet Union in 1970 to advocate for Jews there

President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom

CNN  — 

Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., a former Seagram executive and president of the World Jewish Congress for nearly 30 years, died in New York Saturday, according to a spokesman for his family’s foundation. He was 84.

Bronfman died of natural causes, according to Jonathan Cohen, a spokesman for the family’s Samuel Bronfman Foundation, named after his father, a wealthy liquor mogul. Edgar Bronfman was surrounded by family when he died, Cohen said.

Bronfman devoted much of his life to advocating for Judaism and Jewish causes. He traveled to the Soviet Union in 1970 to lobby for greater freedom for Jews living there and helped to win restitution for Holocaust victims from Swiss banks in 1997. President Bill Clinton awarded Bronfman the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999.

Bronfman also exposed the Nazi past of former Austrian President Kurt Waldheim.

“He was the first of his kind, a titan of industry that dedicated himself fully to advocating, advancing and encouraging the Jewish people,” said Dana Raucher, executive director of the family’s foundation. “Edgar showed how vision and long-term thinking can impact the entire landscape of Jewish life. “

Bronfman, the son of Canadian liquor mogul Samuel Bronfman, became chairman and CEO of the Seagram Company in 1971. While at the helm, Bronfman worked to expand Seagram’s presence abroad and to develop the company’s holdings beyond alcohol, including acquiring Tropicana and investing in oil and DuPont, the chemical company.

Bronfman retired from the Seagram Company in 1994 and passed the reins to his son Edgar Jr. He was president of the World Jewish Congress from 1981 until 2007.

Bronfman is survived by his wife, Jan Aronson; his brother, Charles Bronfman; his sister Phyllis Lambert, four sons; three daughters; 24 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. He was previously married to Ann Loeb, with whom he had five children, and Georgiana Webb, with whom he had two.