Israel Asper, founder of the Winnipeg-based CanWest Global Communications media empire, has died.

Asper was admitted to St. Boniface Hospital Tuesday morning. He passed away shortly after in the presence of his wife Babs, sons David and Leonard, and daughter Gail.

Israel Harold ("Izzy") Asper was born in Minnedosa, Man. on Aug. 11, 1932. His parents, both musicians, owned two rural movie theatres, where young Izzy worked as an usher.

When the family moved to Winnipeg, Asper studied law at the University of Manitoba. Later, he became a tax specialist and deal-maker. He was well-connected politically, serving as leader of the Manitoba Liberals for five years in the early 1970s.

Asper became involved in broadcasting in 1974, when he founded CKND, a small television station he bought in North Dakota and moved to Winnipeg. He expanded his media holdings to include dozens of radio stations and newspapers, including operations in Australia and New Zealand.

In 2000, Asper bought the Southam newspaper group, including the National Post and other assets, from Conrad Black's Hollinger Inc. for $3.2 billion.

Asper retired as executive chairman of CanWest in January 2003. Anticipating his retirement, CanWest had arranged for what the family called "an orderly transition of management," with the appointment in 1999 of Leonard Asper as president and chief executive officer. Asper remained active in the company as chairman of the board.

Asper was also well-known for his philanthropy, most recently in the establishment of the Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg. He also helped establish the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba.

A spokesman for CanWest Global says the funeral will be held on Thursday at 1:00 p.m. at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, 561 Wellington Crescent.

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