Arne Naess, 66; Shipping Mogul, Mountain Climber

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Arne Naess, the Norwegian shipping magnate and former husband of singer Diana Ross, died Tuesday while mountain climbing in South Africa, police officials said. Naess was 66.

Citing South African media sources, the Reuters news agency reported that Naess fell to his death while on a climb in Franschoek in the Western Cape.

An experienced mountaineer who led a team to the summit of Mt. Everest in the spring of 1985, Naess became a success in shipping relatively young.

Born in Oslo, the child of a broken marriage, Naess was raised by an uncle, also named Arne Naess. His uncle took him mountain climbing, skiing and ski jumping at an early age.

Young Arne Naess became known for what People magazine once described as his daredevil antics. He celebrated his graduation from school in 1956, People reported, by climbing the spire of the National Theater building in Oslo and sticking his cap on the building's needle.

He eventually went to work for another uncle in New York City who had made a fortune in the shipping business. By the late 1960s, Naess was established as a businessman in his own right, and by the mid-1980s, he had large holdings in two dozen companies and was reported to be worth $100 million.

Naess and Ross met in the Bahamas in May 1985. They quickly developed a close relationship and married in a civil ceremony in New York City that October. In February 1986, they held a storybook wedding in a church in Romainmotier, Switzerland, which was reportedly attended by celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Gregory Peck and Marlon Brando.

Naess fathered two sons with the singer -- Ross and Evan. Although the couple traveled extensively to places like Nepal and Africa, they eventually settled into a transcontinental marriage. By the early 1990s, he was spending more of his time in London and she remained at home in the United States raising her children with Naess and three daughters from her first marriage.

In early 1999, Naess told an interviewer on Oslo television that the couple had separated. Ross said she didn't want the marriage to end, but they later divorced.

There was no immediate comment from Ross on the death of her former husband.

Besides his children with Ross, Naess is survived by five other children, including two with his Norwegian partner, Camilla Astrup.

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