Friday, November 05, 2010

Good Riddance: The Death of Robert Maxwell

Normally, of course, I love a rags-to-riches story; it gives me something compelling to think about as I'm sitting here in this pile of rags. Whenever the ascent of a person from poverty to wealth and fame involves perseverance, creativity, and even good fortune, it gives me at least a reason to cheer. There is, however, a dark side to the myth of a self-made man...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOf course, ambition in and of itself is not so bad; in the case of Robert Maxwell (whose capacity for rapacity is well-documented), when ambition comes with a side-order of ruthlessness and cruelty, that's not so good. Perhaps his years in Westminster (as a Labour Party MP for Buckingham of all things, from 1964-70) rendered him physically incapable of telling the truth; no matter, as scandal dogged him throughout his endeavours in the book trade he made the leap into newspapers, purchasing the UK's Daily Mirror, where having to tell the truth would be less of a bugbear. Even his attacks on Rupert Murdoch - which normally would be enough to make me admire anyone, even Hitler - do nothing to assuage the smarminess and corruption of the man in my eyes.

In this instance I am with Ian Hislop (although I'm sure I'd hate to know what he'd think of me and my little enterprise), TV personality, editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye, and the only person in British media at the time with the stones to take him on; as such, the magazine was successfully sued by Maxwell several times. One of those times Private Eye said that Maxwell looked like a criminal, for which he was awarded a substantial sum; no word yet on what happened when it turned out the criminal actually was a criminal. Not that it would have mattered, as by the time it was revealed that the criminal in question had engaged in stock manipulation schemes, diverted pension funds into his own pocket, and generally mucked about in the favourite pastimes of the kleptocracy (a la Lord Black, another swell guy) he was dead.

The end came on this day in 1991, at the age of 68; Maxwell is presumed to have fallen overboard from his luxury yacht, Lady Ghislaine, while cruising off the Canary Islands. Whether you think his death was an accident, suicide, or murder probably says as much about you as how you feel about him. Whatever fate befell him, he was lauded by the mucky-mucks and given a veritable state funeral in Israel, even though rumours that he was killed after trying to blackmail Mossad still linger; as do allegations that at the time of his death Germany had been investigating him for his role in possible war crimes committed there in 1945.

Perhaps, then, it's not so far-fetched an idea that this was one self-made man who could also have merely self-destructed...
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