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David Koch, billionaire conservative activist and philanthropist, dies at 79

NBC News

David Koch, billionaire conservative activist and philanthropist, has died. He was 79.

“It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my brother David,” Charles Koch said in a statement Friday. “Anyone who worked with David surely experienced his giant personality and passion for life.”

David stepped down last year from helping to run the family business, Koch Industries, a Kansas-based energy and chemical corporation. Charles is the company’s chairman and chief executive officer.

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The brothers were tied as 11th richest in the world in a ranking by Forbes. At the time of his death, David Koch was worth $42.4 billion.

With the wealth from their business, the Koch brothers helped to build a massive conservative network of donors for organizations that work to mobilize voters and sway elected officials in support of libertarian-leaning economic policies.

The network, led by the nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, has spent more than $1 billion over the past several elections to support candidates that adhere to their free-market, small-government, libertarian ideals.

The organization sometimes split with the GOP under President Donald Trump. It launched a multimillion-dollar campaign last year promoting free trade and warning against tariffs.

David Koch himself ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate in 1980. He and the party’s presidential candidate, Ed Clark, won a little more than 1 percent of the vote.

Koch, a prostate cancer survivor, donated hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research. He was also a huge supporter of the arts in New York City, notably donating to Lincoln Center and $65 million to support a renovation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When Koch was diagnosed with cancer 27 years ago, he was given five years to live, his brother said.

“David liked to say that a combination of brilliant doctors, state-of-the-art medications and his own stubbornness kept the cancer at bay,” the brother’s statement said. “We can all be grateful that it did, because he was able to touch so many more lives as a result.”

“The significance of David’s generosity is best captured in the words of Adam Smith, who wrote, ‘to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature,'” Charles said.

David Koch is also survived by his wife, Julia, and three children.

“While we mourn the loss of our hero, we remember his iconic laughter, insatiable curiosity, and gentle heart,” Julia said in a statement.

“His stories of childhood adventures enlivened our family dinners; his endless knowledge rendered him our ‘walking Google.’ His sensitive heart had him shed a tear at the beauty of his daughter’s ballet, and beam with pride when his son beat him at chess,” she wrote. “We will miss the fifth link in our family.”

Image: Elisha FieldstadtElisha Fieldstadt

Elisha Fieldstadt is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.

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