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ZeniMax Media chairman and CEO Robert Altman has passed away at the age of 73. The leader of the parent company of video game publisher Bethesda Softworks was in the midst of selling Bethesda to Microsoft for $7.5 billion.
Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda for so much money speaks to the strength of the company that Altman built, with game brands such as The Evil Within, Wolfenstein, Quake, Doom, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Rage, Dishonored, Prey, and others. Upcoming titles include Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo.
“We are deeply saddened to tell you of the passing of Robert A. Altman, our Founder and CEO,” Bethesda said in a tweet. “He was a true visionary, friend, and believer in the spirit of people and the power of what they could accomplish together. He was an extraordinary leader, and an even better human being.”
Altman served as the chairman of the Entertainment Software Association, the game industry’s trade group that puts on the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). He was chairman for the past three years.
“Our hearts are heavy with sadness by the sudden passing of our board chairman and an industry giant, Robert Altman,” the ESA said in a statement. “Robert was a visionary leader who empowered his talented team to create works that not only spoke to generations of fans, but inspired them to come together as communities. His immense legacy and influence within the video game industry, as well as his contributions to the Washington, D.C. community, are only surpassed by his role as a loving husband and caring father. His loss is simply beyond measure. On behalf of the ESA, our member companies and our board of directors, we send our deepest condolences to his wife Lynda, his children Jessica and James, his entire family and his colleagues at ZeniMax Media.”
Altman grew up in Washington, D.C., and his parents were in real estate law and television broadcasting. Altman worked as an attorney in Washington, D.C., early in his career. In 1992, he ran into trouble with regulators, who charged him and former defense secretary Clark Clifford of fraud in relation to a scandal involving BCCI, but Altman was acquitted at trial. In 1999, he partnered with Christopher Weaver to jumpstart Bethesda in the video game business. After a falling out, Weaver left the company, but Altman stayed on as the CEO of ZeniMax, the parent company.
Microsoft’s Xbox head Phil Spencer also tweeted his condolences.
I am incredibly saddened by the news that we have lost an industry icon, partner, and close friend Robert Altman. Sending love and strength to his family and all the teams at Zenimax/Bethesda during this very difficult time. https://t.co/f3JylOL0QJ
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) February 4, 2021
Bethesda’s business took off with the fantasy role-playing series The Elder Scrolls. In 2007, Providence Equity Partners invested $300 million in Bethesda, enabling it to acquire id Software and its Quake and Doom franchises, as well as invest in the Fallout post-apocalypse game license.
Altman was married to Wonder Woman TV series star Lynda Carter, and ZeniMax’s board included heavyweights such as Robert Trump (brother of Donald Trump). Robert Trump passed away in 2020. Other board members include filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer, baseball legend Cal Ripken, and former CBS CEO Les Moonves.
“Robert was one of the greats in our industry. I deeply respected him and valued our friendship,” said Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts, in a statement. “We shared many great dinners and glasses of wine together, and his thoughtfulness, honesty and integrity is something I will greatly miss. Robert was a special person, and all of us at Electronic Arts extend our sympathies to his family, friends, and colleagues.”
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