Richard Heller — who unexpectedly died at his home in Malmo, Sweden, aged 73, of heart failure — had a knack for getting Europe’s press-shy billionaires to talk frankly.
His door-opening abilities were derived in part from a wit and charm that bordered on impertinence: Heller was known to refer to a voluptuous journalistic colleague as Salome, and to challenge editors to arm wrestling matches in exchange for more editorial space for his writing.
Between 1999 and 2003, Heller was a contributing editor at Forbes Global, the international edition of the US business publication, and in a remarkably short period of time produced 18 cover stories for the magazine — a work pace that would have felled journalists half his age. Among these Forbes cover stories was a news-making profile of Ingvar Kamprad, the dyslexic Swede who built the furniture giant, Ikea.
Heller not only convinced the reclusive billionaire to revisit his bleak hometown of Smaland, but also convinced Kamprad to talk about his youthful flirtation with ultra-nationalist politics. It was quintessential Heller: he artfully mixed serious business coverage with human interest and a deliciously scurrilous line in gossip.
For such lively business coverage, Heller was twice rewarded with coveted Business Journalist of the Year Awards.
Born in 1933 in New York, Heller was the son of Dr Saul Heller (a noted neurologist and psychiatrist) and Phyllis Moffet (the founder of Hamburger Heaven, a popular New York restaurant).
Heller’s parents divorced when he was young and he suffered from polio, but none of these hardships held him back. He was educated at Trinity, Yale and Harvard Law School.
Between the 1960s and 1990s, Heller made his living as a lawyer. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1961, and for a while was a vice president of Mitsui and Co. However, such a conventional life was not for Heller. In the 1970s and 1980s, he lived in Italy, jetting back to the US to represent in the tax courts expatriates and the Italiandomiciled.
Heller first got into journalism writing about tax matters for the Daily American, a now defunct English language paper in Italy, before he founded the Italian Business Review. But his Italian business magazine was not profitable, so he supplemented his income writing for The European — and was for a while the chief editor of the Scandinavian Business News.
Heller’s talents came together in the late 1990s, when Forbes launched Forbes Global, and he was talent spotted by the magazine’s founding editor, Lawrence Minard.
Heller is survived by five children, a half brother, and his much-loved companion from the latter part of his life, Mary Jensen. At the time of his death, Heller was working on two books and was scheduled to chair a Forbes CEO conference in Copenhagen.
Heller was a rare species of journalist: warm and smart, infuriating and generous, talented and immensely well liked by his colleagues. They will miss him.
A memorial service takes place in London on 29 March. Contact Carina Clausen on 020 7534 3912 or at email@example.com for details.