NEW YORK - Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., 84, the billionaire businessman and longtime president of the World Jewish Congress, which lobbied the Soviets to allow Jews to emigrate and helped spearhead the search for hidden Nazi loot, died Saturday.
The Canadian-born Mr. Bronfman died at his New York home surrounded by family, according to the family charity he led, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation.
Mr. Bronfman made his fortune with his family's Seagram's liquor empire, taking over as chairman and CEO in 1971 and continuing the work of his father, Samuel. Under Mr. Bronfman's leadership, Seagram expanded its offerings and was eventually acquired by the French media and telecom group Vivendi Universal in 2000.
Mr. Bronfman's wealth, combined with his role in the World Jewish Congress, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations in some 80 countries that he led for more than a quarter century, allowed him to be a tireless advocate for his fellow Jews.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Bronfman the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. In the citation, he was heralded for working "to ensure basic rights for Jews around the world."
In 1985, he had become the first congress president to meet with Soviet officials in Moscow, bringing his case for human rights and taking a little time to promote Seagram's interests.
He visited again in 1988, by which time Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, a key goal of the congress, had begun to rise under the reforming leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the congress also helped lead the effort to gain $11 billion in restitution for heirs of Holocaust victims.