Dorian Hargrove 10:14 a.m., May 24
David Copley, 60, dead in La Jolla car crash
Wealthy sole heir to a once-powerful newspaper chain, he presided over its dismantling
David Copley, the sole heir to the Copley newspaper chain of his adoptive father, has died in a La Jolla car crash, the newspaper formerly known as the San Diego Union-Tribune reported tonight.
Copley, 60, apparently was the victim of a heart attack while driving an Aston Martin near his La Jolla home and crashed. He died later at Scripps Memorial Hospital, says the U-T San Diego account. Copley received a heart transplant in July 2005.
Copley had a tumultuous personal and professional history, having inherited the Copley print empire just as the newspaper business was massively disrupted by the rise of the Internet.
"Helen Copley died on August 25, 2004, at Foxhill, the sprawling French Provincial estate in La Jolla built by her late husband Jim," we wrote in February 2008's Rise and Fall of the Copley Press.
"She was 81. Her only child David, then 52, was born after Helen fled to San Diego following a quickie marriage and divorce from his father in Iowa, apparently to give the child a name; Jim Copley adopted David in 1965, immediately after marrying Helen.
"At the time of her death, Helen had long since settled her legal disagreement with Jim Copley’s two adopted children from his first marriage, who sued for fraud, claiming she raided their trust fund. The agreement was secret, but it was clear they were out of the company for good.
"David was his mother’s only apparent heir. She named him chairman and chief executive of the Copley Press and publisher of the Union-Tribune in 1997.
"For years, rumors swirled through the Union-Tribune about the state of his health. A huge man with a baby face, Copley was famous for his drinking bouts and the extravagant parties he threw. He had been repeatedly arrested for drunk driving, in one case doing a week at a county labor camp after being picked up weaving down a street near his La Jolla mansion in his Porsche."
"Though it wasn’t acknowledged by the paper, the U-T rumor mill had it that Copley’s heart was bad, caused by his weight and indulgence in food, drink, and perhaps other substances. Then, almost a year after Helen’s death, the U-T announced in July 2005 that he’d had a heart transplant."
“'For me, of course, this is wonderful news,” Copley said an email message attributed to him by the paper.
“The surgeons and their team at Sharp Hospital in San Diego did a magnificent job. Indeed, over the last two years, they literally have saved my life several times. Thanks to their skill and the scientific advances that make their work possible, I can look forward to many years of renewed vigor and productivity.”
In 2009, Copley unloaded the Union-Tribune to Platinum Equity, a Beverly Hills-based private equity group run by Tom Gores, a Maronite Christian from Nazareth, who began his career working part time in his uncle Tom Joubran's Michigan grocery operation.
Last year, Gores flipped the paper to its current owner, a corporation run by Republican hotel and real estate magnate Doug Manchester.