Final Days of United States Politician Nelson Rockefeller

About the final days of United States politician Nelson Rockefeller, biography and history.


NELSON ROCKEFELLER, U.S. political leader, vice-president

Died: 13 West 54th Street, New York City, Jan. 26, 1979, 11:15 P.M.?

Since retiring from politics in 1977 after a long public career, the 70-year-old Rockefeller had devoted himself to his huge art collection, producing books and selling reproductions of the masterpieces he owned. He spent most of his last day working on his latest book in his Rockefeller Center office. In the late afternoon, he went to Buckley School on 73rd Street, where his two young sons were students, to introduce former secretary of state Henry Kissinger to a class. Following Kissinger's speech, he returned to his duplex apartment at 812 Fifth Avenue and dined with his family. His chauffeur then drove him and Andrew Hoffman, a security aide, to the brownstone town house he had maintained for 30 years on 54th Street. From there he called 31-year-old Megan Marshack, his staff assistant, shortly before 9:00 P.M. She arrived a few minutes later wearing a long black evening gown, and they sat down to work on the art book. There are several confusing versions of the events that followed. At about 11:15 P.M., according to the revised account given by family spokesman Hugh Morrow, Rockefeller suffered a heart attack and collapsed on the floor. "Megan made a quick effort at artificial respiration, and Hoffman tried, too," said Morrow; the Megan called 911, the emergency number. The two policemen who arrived first on the scene found Rockefeller in a suit and tie lying on the floor. Officer George Frangos reported that "he was still warm. His face was reddish, not kind of polka-dot blotches or bluish, the way they get a little later." They could find no pulse. Ambulance and paramedic teams, which arrived a few minutes later, failed to revive him. At Lenox Hill Hospital, Dr. Ernest Esakof, Rockefeller's physician, officially pronounced him dead at 12:20 A.M.

Morrow had first stated that Rockefeller died almost instantly at 10:15 P.M. in his Rockefeller Center office, but the first call received by police was at 11:16 P.M. Morrow then corrected the address and explained that Marshack--whose presence was previously undisclosed--had, in her shock, simply given an erroneous time. On Feb. 10 further confusion was created when journalist Ponchitta Pierce, a friend of Marshack's, revealed that Marshack had phoned her on Jan. 26 between 10:50 and 11:00 P.M. and told her that "Governor Rockefeller had suffered a heart attack." Pierce said she went to the town house and found Rockefeller on a couch with Megan trying to revive him. Pierce stated that she herself dialed 911 for help; then, inexplicably, she left before the police arrived. Police analysis of the taped, frantic call verified that the woman caller was not Marshack. All of the witnesses--including security aide William Keogh and chauffeur Lonnie Wilcher--have since remained silent. Because no autopsy was performed, even Dr. Esakof's judgment that death resulted from a heart attack was, at best, an educated guess.

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