Bruce Wasserstein, Lazard CEO, dies at 61

Preeminent investment banker who redefined the merger was hospitalized two days earlier.

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By David Goldman, staff writer

Bruce Wassertein, CEO of Lazard, died Wednesday at age 61.

NEW YORK ( -- Bruce Wasserstein, chief executive of asset management firm Lazard, died Wednesday. He was 61 years old.

He was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat on Monday, according to reports, but the cause of death was not immediately known.

The Lazard board of directors named vice chairman Steven J. Golub interim chief executive officer effective immediately.

The board said Wasserstein "has put into place a long term-strategy as well as a broad and deep leadership team, in whom we have confident and who will sustain his vision."

Wasserstein headed Lazard (LAZ) since 2002, taking the firm public in May 2005. The investment banker was known for his ruthless, high-stakes dealmaking. He initiated many hostile takeovers and redefined how mergers and acquisitions could be accomplished.

Wasserstein's most high-profile deal was Kohlberg Kravis Roberts' 1988 leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco, on which he advised. The takeover was the subject of the book "Barbarians at the Gate."

During his career, Wasserstein famously advised activist investor Carl Icahn in his attempted takeover of parent company Time Warner (TWX, Fortune 500) in 2006.

"Wasserstein taught a generation how to do deals, and was a big brother of sorts to so many investors nationwide," said Michael Williams, dean of Touro College's Graduate School of Business in New York. "He established the model for mergers and acquisitions. He was just remarkable."

Prior to his tenure at Lazard, Wasserstein was the co-head of investment banking at The First Boston Corp., and he served as an attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Wasserstein graduated from Harvard Business School and earned a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Wasserstein also was chairman of Wasserstein & Co., a private merchant bank, and he owned a group of media publications, including New York Magazine and TheDeal MagazineTo top of page

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