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Gerald M. Levin Dies: Former Time Warner CEO Who Oversaw AOL Merger Was 84

Gerald M. Levin Dies: Former Time Warner CEO Who Oversaw AOL Merger Was 84

Gerald M. “Jerry” Levin, the former CEO of Time Warner who helped oversee its calamitous merger with AOL, died Wednesday in Long Beach, CA. He was 84.

His death was confirmed to The New York Times by his grandchild, Jake Maia Arlow. Levin had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but no details about his death were shared.

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Once described as one of the most powerful media executives in the world, Levin with Steve Case orchestrated the ruinous merger of AOL and Time Warner in 2000. At the time, Time Warner was the world’s largest media company while AOL was a behemoth in its own right. But the deal would go down among the worst in history, and Levin resigned from the company in 2002.

“He saw the merger with AOL as making Time Warner digital by injection,” Richard Parsons, who succeeded Levin at Time Warner, told the NYT. “What AOL brought to the party was instant access and competence in terms of how to access the internet world.”

Born in Pennsylvania, Levin attended Haverford College and University of Pennsylvania Law School. Most of his career was with Time Inc, which became Time Warner. He joined the company in 1972 and made his mark three years later by persuading the brass to transmit a regional pay-TV channel called Home Box Office to the nation.

“It was Jerry Levin who revolutionized television when he was the first to utilize satellite transmission for programming,” Barry Diller said in a statement for the NYT, “and he had great resistance inside Time Inc., but he persevered and cable television was born.”

He would later play a key role in the company’s merger with Warner Communications. As CEO, he oversaw the 1996 acquisition of Turner Broadcasting System.

After the death of Robin Williams in 2014, Levin disclosed to Deadline that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

“There is so much misunderstanding about Parkinson’s,” he told Mike Fleming Jr. “To make the connection between Parkinson’s and depression probably will have a substantial impact now where people will begin to see, without stigma and without mischaracterization, that this is a 24/7 kind of disease that affects your functions. There is a whole psychological layer underneath the physical effects of Parkinson’s that is usually not even discussed or disclosed. I think this is a tremendous contribution to awareness, and it will be remembered along with his human spirit and joy. Some of the words that are used are quite ironic, that it’s a progressive, degenerative, disease.”

A year later, Levin formed The Levin Center For Parkinson’s Transformational Health. The mission was to remove the stigma and work on the emotional well-being of Parkinson’s sufferers.

“I stepped down from Time Warner in 2002,” Levin told Deadline. “This is my first entrepreneurial start-up. I joined Time Inc for the startup of HBO, but that was done under a corporate umbrella as were other entrepreneurial plays we made. At age 76, without any entrepreneurial start-up experience, I am now engaged in a start-up. I’ve done interviews about business, about making movies, cable, streaming, and I would always get conflicting reactions. That [Deadline article from 2014] was the first time that uniformly the reaction was I’d done something important, speaking about what it’s like internally to deal with Parkinson’s, and using Robin’s legacy as a way to illustrate how people should not be embarrassed. I have realized this is the only bully pulpit I have. I’m a citizen with a past title, but I have a platform, and it is Parkinson’s, and aging. Yes, I have Parkinson’s, and yes, I have tremors, my voice is not what it used to be, and it’s hard for me to walk. But I am determined to help people. If you help others, you help yourself.”

Levin is survived by four children. He is preceded in death by his son Jonathan, a public high school teacher who was murdered by a former student in 1997.

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