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Goldsmith: controversial political figure

Flamboyant Goldsmith Dies of Heart Attack

One of Europe's most flamboyant industrialists, Sir James Goldsmith, has died leaving the business and political world debating his often outrageous reputation.

Sir James, who was 64, started his career as a hotel cook and became one of the world's wealthiest men. He died on Friday night in Spain, apparently from a heart attack linked to cancer of the pancreas diagnosed in 1993.

"It happened in the night, in the small hours of the morning. He was with his family at the time," said his friend and lawyer Samuel Pisar.

Sir James prompted controversy all his life over his business methods and, as recently as this year's General Election, his politics.

He was a vehement opponent of further European integration and the proposed monetary union. Sir James poured millions of dollars from his large fortune to set up the Referendum Party, to campaign against it in the general elections.

On the campaign trail

Although Sir James' party won 800,000 votes across the country, it failed to get anywhere near gaining any seats in parliament.

Despite the party's poor showing at the election, politicians say Sir James Goldsmith made a huge impact on British politics.

"Jimmy Goldsmith was one of the most powerful and dynamic personalities that this generation has seen," said the former prime minister, Lady Thatcher.

"He was enormously generous, and fiercely loyal to the causes he espoused. He was a good friend and I am saddened by his loss," she said.

Tributes to Sir James

The Prime Minister paid tribute to Sir James, describing as an extraordinary. "I am very sad for Jimmy Goldsmith and for his family," said Mr Blair.

"He was an extraordinary character and though I didn't always agree with his political views, obviously, he was an amazing and interesting, fascinating man and I think people will miss him," he said.

The Tory Euro-sceptic, Sir Teddy Taylor MP, said Sir James had focused public attention on the extent of closer integration between European states and obliged mainstream politicians to address the issue of its potential pitfalls.

"He put before the public an issue that politicians didn't want to take on board and in doing so achieved a great deal," he said. "It may be destined to go largely unheralded, but his campaign had a profound influence on policy."

The business tycoon Peter de Savary, a long-time friend of Sir James and one of his Referendum Party parliamentary candidates joined in the tributes.

"There are few men that one can truly describe as a lion of a man. He was one," he said. "He had courage, ability, determination, kindness. I am very saddened. He had the ability to climb the mountain and come down safely on the other side."

Sir James Goldsmith's private life was as colourful as his business career, and he's survived by three families.

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