John Cowles Jr., 82, scion of a Minneapolis newspaper family and philanthropist who helped shaped the cultural landscape of the Twin Cities, died of lung cancer Saturday at his home in Minneapolis.
His death was reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which his family owned until 1998.
Cowles succeeded his father in 1961 as editor of Minneapolis' morning Tribune and evening Star. In 1968 he rose to president and chief executive of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Co., which later was renamed Cowles Media Co.
He was praised for supporting aggressive local news reporting, increasing arts coverage and promoting civil rights and women's rights in editorials. Some of his business decisions were regarded less favorably, including the purchases of Harper's magazine, the publisher Harper & Row and the Buffalo Courier-Express, which lost money.
Mounting financial problems caused the company to merge the Star and the Tribune in 1982 and downsize the staff. The editor of the combined papers quit in protest, and in 1983 Cowles was ousted as publisher and chief executive.
Among the civic projects he helped mold were Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater; the Metrodome, where the Vikings play; and the Cowles Center, a theater for the dance.
After he was fired by his family's publishing company, Cowles studied agricultural economics, helped establish a women's softball league and toured with a modern dance group. He earned some notoriety for performing a dance nude.
Cowles was born on May 27, 1929, in Des Moines, Iowa. His grandfather, Gardner, was publisher of the Des Moines Register; his father, John, and his uncle, Gardner Jr., founded Look magazine. His family moved to Minneapolis in 1938 a few years after his father bought the Minneapolis Star.
A graduate of Harvard, Cowles served in the Army for two years before going to work as a reporter for his family's papers.
Times staff and wire reports