Sidney Harman, 92, More Than A Technical Genius

Sidney Harman, who died at 92 yesterday, one month after it was discovered that he had acute myeloid leukemia, was much more than a technical genius who paved the way for living rooms and bedrooms booming with the stereophonic sound of Shostakovich or Hendrix or, in recent months, a cash-bearing savior of Newsweek.

"That remarkable brain, filled with so much humor, poetry, and wisdom, was something his new colleagues at Newsweek and the Daily Beast marveled at in every encounter," says Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of IAC/InteractiveCorp., his partner in the publishing venture.

One of those new colleagues, the veteran Newsweek reporter and columnist Jonathan Alter, writes about taking a phone call from Harman less than a year ago. Harmon told him that, against the advice of his rich buddies, he intended to buy the magazine from the Washington Post.

"I was intrigued by Sidney's ideas and, like so many who encountered him, soon enough impressed at his charm and astonishing vigor," Alter writes. "He strode quickly into a room, tanned and fit, offered a firm mogul handshake like a man decades younger. With a near-photographic memory, he dazzled dinner parties and meetings of editors by reciting long passages from Shakespeare, Tennyson and long-forgotten essayists, all of which had some genuine wisdom to impart."



The death came as a shock, Alter continues. "He was 92 and expected to live past 100. We all believed him." Later he recounts how Harman and his partner, Bernard Kardon, invented the concept of "hi-fi," which had only been available in recording studios.

"On the way up, he was consistently inventive. In those early days, a loudspeaker was set in a plywood basket or frame with a circle cut out for the cone. Seeing the discarded circles in the trash, Sidney had a bright idea. The wooden circles would be the face of clocks he'd make," Alter recounts.

New York Post media writer Keith J. Kelly says that Newsweek insiders hope their experience is similar to that of New York. The family of financier and backer Bruce Wasserstein has continued to fund the magazine two years after his death.

Harman's wife, former U.S. representative Jane Harman, is the most logical person to assume his position as executive chairman on the four-person board that oversees Newsweek, Kelly believes. She won re-election in November as a Democratic congresswoman for the 36th district in California but resigned in February. She currently runs the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C.

Forbes estimated Harman's fortune to be $500 million in 2010. He gave millions of it away to education, the performing and fine arts and other philanthropies over the years.

Representatives of the family and IAC/InteractiveCorp., say that their commitment to the magazine will continue, Russell Adams writes in the Wall Street Journal. "We will carry on, though we will greatly miss his passionate enthusiasm and belief in the venture," says the IAC's Diller.

In a separate obit, Adams writes that Harman left his company, now called Harman International Industries, in 2007, and was a professor of polymathic study at the University of Southern California. USC defines its Academy for Polymathic Study as fostering integrated interdisciplinary learning.

The New York Times' obit is written by Robert D. McFadden, which alone makes it worth reading. He delves into some of the qualities that made Harman an exemplar of polymathism.

"He studied physics, engineering and social psychology; was a classical music fan and jazz aficionado; recited Shakespeare by heart; was a civil rights and antiwar activist; created programs to humanize the workplace; was the president of a Quaker college on Long Island; served as President Jimmy Carter's deputy secretary of commerce; published a memoir at 85; and was still active in business in his 90s," McFadden writes.

Harman's autobiography, Mind Your Own Business: A Maverick's Guide to Business Leadership and Life, was published in 2003. He also wrote Starting With the People with pollster Daniel Yankelovich in 1988.

Harman's first marriage, to the former Sylvia Stern, ended in divorce. He married the former Jane Lakes in 1980. Besides his wife, Harman is survived by children Lynn, Gina, Barbara, Paul, Daniel, Justine, two step-children, Brian and Hilary, and 10 grandchildren.

There will be memorial services in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles at later dates; funeral arrangements are private, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

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