The man who stocked the humdrum checkout counters of America's supermarkets with accounts of alien monsters, haunted houses, occult voices and celebrity tittle-tattle is dead.
Generoso Pope Jr., multimillionaire owner of the National Enquirer, which specialized in sensational yarns shunned by more traditional newspapers, died Sunday of cardiac arrest. He was 61.
Pope collapsed at his home in Manalapan, Fla., and died at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in nearby Atlantis, where he was president of the board of trustees. "Essentially, he was dead on arrival," hospital spokesman Larry Schwingel said.
Schwingel said Pope, who had been hospitalized for three days in July after complaining of chest pains, "was looking extremely well until today. Some people at the hospital saw him on Friday and said he looked in very good health."
Enquirer reporter Roger Capettini said Pope, a visible and active presence in the Enquirer newsroom in Lantana, Fla., was very much himself in the previous week and "looked vibrant and healthy. It's a very sad occasion. He truly was loved by his employees. He demanded a lot of us, but he rewarded us and compensated us."
Pope, a New York City native who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 19, was 25 when he borrowed $75,000 to buy the 17,000-circulation weekly New York Enquirer in 1952.
His first move, which boosted circulation to 1 million, was to make it a tabloid and give heavy play to stories drenched in gore, with headlines like "Passion Pills Fan Rape Wave."
In the late 1960s, he went to supermarket distribution and changed the format drastically, dropping the slasher stories in favor of lowbrow escapist tales that remain its fabulously successful stock-in-trade.
"I don't care if other media respect us or not," Pope once said.
Despite whether the readers respected the Enquirer, they ate it up. Circulation now stands at 4.5 million, second in the nation after TV Guide.
And Pope became one of the nation's wealthiest citizens. In 1985, Forbes magazine estimated his personal fortune at $150 million.
But the man was interested in more than money--frequently working six days a week, rarely taking vacations and delighting in the splash that his publication frequently created.
"If you took this away from me, I'd probably die," he told the News-Sun Sentinel of Ft.Lauderdale in an interview last year.
Pope is survived by his wife, Lois, and six children.
Enquirer editor Iain Calder said of Pope: "No one can replace him, but his wife and family are determined to continue publishing the Enquirer with the same dedication and high standards Gene demanded."