Robert Maxwell, 68, the autocratic and flamboyant head of a tangled media empire that ranges from broadcasting and newspapers to helicopter leasing, died Nov. 5. He was lost at sea while cruising in his private yacht near the Canary Islands.

Following an autopsy on his recovered body, Spanish authorities said “the provisional judgment of the pathologist is of natural death before falling into the water.” How he came to fall is still a mystery.

Maxwell’s international empire was built on publishing but later embraced television interests that included French broadcaster TF-1. In the past year, faced with heavy indebtedness to banks, he unloaded stakes in Central Television of England and independent program packager SelecTV. Also sold off, to Viacom, was an interest in MTV Europe.

The London-based exec’s newspaper properties include the New York Daily News (which Maxwell saved from nearly certain death this year), several British tabloids and a pan-European weekly called The European. In the 1980s, his expanding orbit acquired such U.S. properties as trade book publisher Macmillan, McGraw-Hill Educational Books, Official Airlines Guides and the Berlitz chain of language schools.

Recent allegations linking him to Israeli intelligence and arms dealing with Iran were hotly denied.

Maxwell, who was born Jan Ludvik Hoch in Czechoslovakia, fled to England shortly before World War II and later served with distinction as an intelligence officer in the British army. His mother and four other members of his immediate family died in the Auschwitz concentration camp; it’s believed his father was shot to death at or en route to the camp.

An ardent supporter of Israel, Maxwell was buried in Jerusalem.

Survived by his wife, Elisabeth; three sons, Philip, and Kevin and Ian, who will split the leadership of the two flagship Maxwell companies, Maxwell Communication Corp. and Mirror Group Newspapers; and four daughters. Another daughter died in infancy, and another son died in 1968.

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