David Koch, who plowed a vast industrial fortune into right-wing causes and philanthropic pursuits, has died at the age of 79. His older brother Charles, his partner in business at Koch Industries and in many political initiatives, announced the news. No exact cause of death was given in the statement, though it noted that he fought prostate cancer in the past.
The Kochs donated more than $100 million to right-wing and libertarian causes over many decades, according to the New York Times, and created a donor network that facilitated contributions totaling far more. In 1980, David Koch entered politics directly, running unsuccessfully for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket.
Koch was a major donor to cultural and medical causes, giving away some $1.2 billion during his life, and he was a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Lincoln Center. (The combined wealth of the brothers was estimated to be as high as $100 billion in recent years.)
In a statement, the Met’s president and CEO Daniel Weiss said, “David Koch was an unwavering supporter of our museum, reflected in his service as a trustee and his most generous philanthropic support. We are extremely grateful for his generosity and send our condolences to Julia and his entire family.”
In 2014, the David H. Koch Plaza opened in front of the Met, following Koch’s $65 million donation to renovate the museum’s entryway. The public space occasionally served as a venue for protests against his political efforts, which included funding programs that disputed climate-change science. Other major focuses of his politics were lowering taxes and slashing environmental and labor regulations.
At the time of the plaza’s completion, Thomas P. Campbell, the Met’s director and CEO said, “Rather than finding the complexity of the project daunting—from the hauling of granite for new fountains and paving stones, to the planting of trees and the installation of hundreds of LED lights, on an area roughly the equivalent size of three football fields—David Koch recognized its significance, embraced it, and made it happen.”
Koch was also a prolific donor to New York’s Lincoln Center, pledging $100 million in 2008. The donation caused the New York State Theater, home to the New York City Ballet, to be renamed the David H. Koch Theater.
In a statement, Lincoln Center said, “David H. Koch’s exceptional generosity, genuine love of the performing arts, and deep respect for artists had an indelible impact on both Lincoln Center and the cultural life of New York City. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Julia, and his family.”
Koch also donated around $70 million collectively to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in D.C. The donations were met with an open letter from 36 members of the scientific community demanding that the museum cut ties with him because of the Koch family’s heavy investment in fossil fuels and rejection of climate-change research.
Other arts-related donations from Koch went to the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. Aside from the arts, The David H. Koch Charitable Foundation pledged $150 million to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which went towards erecting the 23-story David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care.
Koch Industries—a conglomerate whose business ranges from chemicals to finance—was founded in 1940 by Koch’s father, Fred C. Koch. After Fred’s death in 1967, his sons—Charles, David, William, and Frederick—inherited major portions of the company. At the time, Charles began serving as chairman and CEO, positions he still holds today. David became involved in the business in 1970 and stepped down last year because of his health.
This post will be updated.
Correction 8/23/19, 8:15 p.m.: An earlier version of this article's headline incorrectly stated Koch's age. He was 79, not 75. The post has been updated to reflect this.