LOS ANGELES (AP) — Conservative U.S. publisher and activist Andrew Breitbart, an outspoken critic of the mainstream media who was praised by fans for his efforts at exposing government corruption and media bias, has died in Los Angeles. He was 43.
Breitbart’s website, bigjournalism.com, announced Thursday he died of natural causes in the early morning hours. His death was confirmed by Breitbart.com editor-in-chief Joel Pollak, who said he was at the hospital, and by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
Breitbart was walking near his house shortly after midnight Thursday when he collapsed, his father-in-law Orson Bean said.
Someone saw him fall and called paramedics, who tried to revive him. They rushed him to the emergency room at UCLA Medical Center, Bean said.
Breitbart had suffered heart problems a year earlier, but Bean said he could not pinpoint what happened.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s devastating,” Bean told The Associated Press.
Larry Dietz, watch commander at the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, said a cause of death was unknown and an autopsy would “more than likely” be conducted.
Breitbart is survived by his wife, Susannah Bean Breitbart, 41, and four children.
Reaction to his death was quick.
“RIP ‘O Mighty Warrior!” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a message on Twitter, the medium where Breitbart confronted his critics with often abrasive messages. Breitbart’s final message called a follower “a putz.”
His online profile, meanwhile, called him a “mild-mannered family guy” and “husky male model.”
Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum called Breitbart a “powerful force” after learning of his death from reporters at a rally in Georgia.
“He will be what a huge loss … for our country and certainly for the conservative movement, and my prayers go out to his family,” Santorum said. “I’m really sorry to hear it.”
Fellow candidate Mitt Romney weighed in via Twitter: “Ann and I are deeply saddened by the passing of (at)AndrewBreitbart: brilliant entrepreneur, fearless conservative, loving husband and father.”
Breitbart seemed to relish in the negative attention his antics earned him. After Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts died in 2009, Breitbart called him “a special pile of human excrement.” When critics questioned his tone, he tweeted they “missed my best ones!”
Media Matters, the liberal watchdog that was a frequent Breitbart critic, said the organization’s “thoughts and prayers are with his family today.”
“Media Matters has a long history with Andrew Breitbart,” Media Matters’ Ari Rabin-Havt said. “We’ve disagreed more than we’ve found common ground, but there was never any question of Andrew’s passion for and commitment to what he believed.”
Breitbart was behind investigations that led to the resignations of former Rep. Anthony Weiner and former U.S. Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod.
Weiner’s problems began on May 28 when Breitbart’s site posted a photograph of an underwear-clad crotch and said it had been sent from Weiner’s Twitter account to a Seattle woman.
Initially, Weiner lied, saying his account had been hacked. He eventually offered a lengthy public confession, acknowledging to online activity involving at least six women.
Sherrod, who is black, was fired from her job as Georgia state rural development director in July 2010 after the video surfaced. She is seen telling a local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People group that she was initially reluctant to help a white farmer save his farm more than two decades ago, long before she worked for USDA.
Missing from the clip was the rest of the speech, which was meant as a lesson in racial healing. Sherrod told the crowd she eventually realized her mistake and helped the farmer save his farm. She has since filed a lawsuit against Breitbart.
Associated Press writers Jack Gillum and Brett Blackledge in Washington, Jeff Wilson in Los Angeles and Ray Henry in Dalton, Georgia, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.