H.R. (Bob) Haldeman, President Richard M. Nixon’s fiercely protective chief of staff who served 18 months in prison for covering up the Watergate break-in, died Friday. He was 67.
Haldeman died of abdominal cancer at his rambling, single-story home overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara’s Hope Ranch neighborhood. His son, Hank, said he had been ill for only a month.
Nixon was saddened by the news.
“Ever since he joined my vice presidential staff as a young advance man in the 1956 election, I have known Bob Haldeman to be a man of rare intelligence, strength, integrity and courage,” Nixon said in a statement.
“As my White House chief of staff, he played an indispensable role in turbulent times as our Administration undertook a broad range of initiatives at home and abroad.”
Haldeman was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury and was sentenced to a 2 1/2- to 8-year term by U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica.
The June, 1972, break-in of Democratic Party headquarters at Washington’s Watergate complex eventually forced Nixon from the White House.
Haldeman had been in advertising when he met Richard Nixon in the 1950s and became one of the earliest and most trusted of Nixon’s campaign aides.
“I am not a politician,” he said once. “I had no real interest in politics, and no participation, until I volunteered for a Nixon campaign.”
After the 1968 election, Haldeman became Nixon’s chief of staff and thereby the gatekeeper to the Oval Office, a post he valued. Other than John N. Mitchell, who had been Nixon’s campaign manager and attorney general, no one was closer to the President.
Mitchell and another top Nixon aide, John D. Erlichman, were also convicted of Watergate conspiracy. Mitchell, who died in 1988, served 19 months in prison for his role in the scandal. Erlichman, who served 1 1/2 years, was traveling Friday, his office in Atlanta said.
Haldeman joined Nixon’s second vice presidential campaign in 1956. He worked again for Nixon in 1958 when the vice president was traveling on behalf of GOP candidates, and in Nixon’s failed 1960 presidential campaign, his race for California governor in 1962 and the victorious presidential campaign of 1968.
Sporting a crew cut, he was constantly at Nixon’s side, but always with a camera in hand as he pursued his photography hobby.
Haldeman was a major figure in the cover-up. Six days after the June 17, 1972, burglary, he suggested that an FBI investigation that was coming too close, be derailed. Nixon concurred.
Nixon gave his tacit approval and the tape recording of that conversation became the so-called smoking gun. On Aug. 9, 1974, four days after the tape became public, Nixon resigned.
Haldeman also was found to be the keeper of a $350,000 slush fund that was used to pay the living expenses of some of the Watergate burglars and he played an active role in the Oval Office conversation on how to contain the growing scandal.
When Nixon counsel John Dean threatened to go to Watergate investigators with what he knew, Haldeman told him that “it’s tough to put the toothpaste back into the tube once it’s out.”
After leaving prison, Haldeman became president of Murdock Hotels Corp. and senior vice president of Murdock Development Co. He worked for seven years at the private companies owned by David Murdock, the financier who now heads Dole Food Co.
More recently, he had been involved with several start-up businesses, as a mentor and adviser to the founders and as a shareholder.
He lived with Jo, his wife of 44 years, and their two horses and dogs at his Santa Barbara ranch-style house.
In his post-Watergate book, “The Ends of Power,” Haldeman wrote that he was “no worshiper of Richard Nixon.”
“I had no interest in working with him except in his political endeavors,” he wrote. “Our paths parted completely when he was out of office and not seeking office.”
Nixon and Haldeman, however, continued to be friends. Haldeman was a guest at the 1990 dedication of the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., and they were together at several other events later.
Besides his wife, Haldeman is survived by his daughters Susan Haldeman and Ann Coppe of San Francisco, and son Peter of Los Angeles.