NEW YORK -- Edgar Bronfman Sr., the former Seagram liquor company executive and ex-World Jewish Congress head who helped obtain restitution for Holocaust victims from Swiss banks, has died, the family foundation said.
The 84-year-old, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died of natural causes at his home in New York on Saturday, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation said.
As the head of the WJC between 1979 and 2007, Bronfman obtained more than $1.0 billion for Holocaust victims and their heirs.
Bronfman "was an ardent campaigner against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism" who "advocated for a better understanding between different faiths and peoples," said WJC President Ronald Lauder.
For decades "Edgar was Diaspora Jewry's undisputed leader," Lauder said in a statement. "He was a household name wherever he went."
Bronfman was the son of Samuel Bronfman, a Jew who fled the pogroms of eastern Europe to Canada and made a fortune producing liquor at distilleries across the border during the U.S. prohibition era.
Israeli President Shimon Peres paid tribute in a letter to Bronfman's family.
"It is with a heavy heart that I received the news of Edgar's passing, and with his death I have lost a dear friend of many years and the Jewish world has lost a great leader," Peres said.
"On this sad occasion, I extend my heartfelt condolences to you and the family on your loss," Peres added, noting that Bronfman tirelessly pursued compensation claims for holocaust victims.
The Bronfmans bought the Seagram distillery, and Edgar Bronfman was a company senior executive in the 1950s and 1960s, becoming chairman when his father died in 1971.
Seagram was later sold off to buyers that included French group Vivendi (IW 1000/120) in 2000.
Bronfman's interest in Judaism was bolstered by a 1970 trip he took to the Soviet Union as part of a delegation advocating for greater rights for Soviet Jews.
Bronfman was a "a visionary leader in business and a philanthropic giant," former U.S. president Bill Clinton and ex-secretary of state Hillary Clinton said in a statement recalling that they had worked with him to obtain restitution for Jewish people for looted assets.
"We were both honored be a part of that effort," the statement said, adding that Bronfman's life "was truly a life well spent, and we will miss his friendship and his big heart."
Dana Raucher, executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, called Bronfman "a titan of industry that dedicated himself fully to advocating, advancing and encouraging the Jewish people."
He was "a giant among Jewish leaders" who was "deeply committed to making Judaism relevant to all those who were seeking it. He sought to build a big tent, open for vigorous debate, impassioned questioning, and full of joy."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013