Former New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger died on Saturday after a long illness, the newspaper said. He was 86.
He was publisher of the newspaper and chairman and chief executive of The New York Times Company for more than 30 years, before retiring as publisher in 1992 and chairman in 1997.
Known by the nickname, Punch, Sulzberger took over a paper in 1963 that was in financial difficulty and built up the paper's business, expanding circulation nationwide and making it the centerpiece of a broader media company.
He expanded the paper from two daily sections to four, including such weekly offerings as Science Times and Home. The decision was questioned at the time, but became a model for other major newspapers.
His death was announced by his family. He died at his home in Southampton, near New York.
He was perhaps most famous for his decision in 1971 to publish a series of articles on a secret US government history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers.
Resisting demands from the administration of US President Richard Nixon to stop publication of the articles, The New York Times eventually won a case at the Supreme Court that was seen as a landmark ruling in favour of press freedom.
He also led the paper through the crucial press freedom Supreme Court case of New York Times Company vs Sullivan, which set a higher burden of proof in libel cases brought by public officials against media outlets.
US President Barack Obama praised Sulzberger in a statement for making The New York Times one of the world's most respected newspapers.
"He was a firm believer in the importance of a free and independent press - one that isn't afraid to seek the truth, hold those in power accountable, and tell the stories that need to be told," Obama said. "Arthur's legacy lives on in the newspaper he loved and the journalists he inspired."
Sulzberger's grandfather, Adolph S Ochs, bought The New York Times in 1886.
His son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr, is the present chairman, chief executive and publisher of The New York Times Company. The family retain control of the company through a special class of stock.
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