Edward von Kloberg III, a legend in public relations circles in Washington, D.C., who did his best to sanitize some of the late 20th century’s most notorious figures, has died. He was 63.
Von Kloberg leaped to his death from a castle in Rome, a State Department spokeswoman said. Von Kloberg’s sister said U.S. Embassy officials in Rome told her that he committed suicide and that a long note was found on his body.
As part of Washington’s image machinery for more than two decades, Von Kloberg III counted as clients Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Samuel Doe of Liberia, Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, the military regime in Burma, and Guatemalan businessmen who supported the country’s murderous, military-backed government.
Von Kloberg embraced the slogan “shame is for sissies” as well as an unabashedly Edwardian style of living. He arrived at balls and galas wearing black capes and he traveled with steamer trunks.
His voice, a friend said, was marked by an “almost Rooseveltian, high-class accent.” He drove enormous black cars and draped foreign medals (Zaire’s Order of the Leopard among them) across his tuxedo.
Washington is a city of advocates and image enhancers, but only a few have staked their reputations as representatives of despots, dictators and human rights violators. For Von Kloberg, the job was a social exercise as well as an all-consuming effort. As he wooed potential clients, he often highlighted his own bad press. There was a lot.
Epithets abounded. The authors of “Washington Babylon,” a muckraking book about power brokers, wrote: “Even within the amoral world of Washington lobbying, [he] stands out for handling clients that no one else will touch.” Washingtonian magazine once named him one of the city’s top 50 “hired guns.”
His clients paid handsomely for his social and diplomatic clout. He often took them to his favorite lunch spot, the Jockey Club, the famed but now defunct restaurant in the Westin Fairfax Hotel.
He would be tipped off when First Lady Nancy Reagan or some ranking administration figure had made a reservation. Such unofficial meetings often were effective ways to win an audience with U.S. power brokers, who otherwise were inclined to close their doors to representatives of reviled regimes.
Political pariahs, he said, were like defendants at trial who have a right to legal counsel. By encouraging investment relations between the United States and his clients’ countries, he hoped to foster a democratizing influence abroad.
He cited the case of Ceausescu, for whom he won U.S. trade concessions. In return, he said, the dictator permitted the printing of Bibles for the first time in decades and, for a stiff price, allowed Soviet Jews to travel through Romania on their way to Israel.
Edward Joseph Kloberg III was born Jan. 9, 1942, in New York City. He added “van” to his surname in the 1960s and decades later changed it to “von” after Arnaud de Borchgrave, the dapper newsman, told him it sounded more distinguished.
Von Kloberg described a pampered upbringing. His grandmother provided him with an entertainment allowance, which he used while at Princeton University to throw parties. However, he flunked out and graduated from Rider College in Lawrenceville, N.J., in 1965.
At American University, he received a master’s degree in history -- writing his key papers on the Borgia popes and Mohammed Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt. But his true passion was organizing soirees.
Hired by American University, he became a key fundraiser and advanced to be dean of admissions and financial aid.
In 1982, Von Kloberg began his public relations and lobbying business, later renamed the Washington World Group.
His final years were spent in pain. He had cancer, diabetes and the inner-ear condition known as Meniere’s syndrome, which caused a ceaseless ringing sensation.
He retired in 2002 after having a heart attack during a flight from Ivory Coast to Paris. He had with him five trunks of luggage, which he claimed before going to a hospital.
Survivors include his companion, Darius Monkevicius of Rome; and a sister, Carol of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.