LA JOLLA, Calif. — Former San Diego Union-Tribune owner and publisher David Copley died hours after crashing his Aston Martin near his La Jolla home.
Copley, 60, died from an apparent heart attack at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, where he was taken after the crash, his friend, Dr. Robert Singer, told reporters outside the hospital. He called Copley “a gentle soul” and “a great San Diegan and beloved citizen of the world.”
Copley crashed his Aston Martin into a parked car on Silverado Street near Eads Avenue at 6:15 p.m., said San Diego police Officer David Stafford. It appears the crash was the result of a medical emergency, he said.
Copley’s family owned the Union-Tribune, part of a greater media empire that included newspapers and a wire service, for more than 80 years. In 2009, Copley sold the paper to a private equity firm, Beverly Hills-based Platinum Equity, and it was purchased last year by San Diego real estate investor Doug Manchester, who changed the name to U-T San Diego.
Before the crash, Copley, who had a heart transplant at Sharp Memorial Hospital in 2005 at age 53, left a Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego board meeting saying he didn’t feel well, Singer said.
Copley became publisher of the Union-Tribune in 2001, when his mother, Helen Copley, transferred leadership of the paper to him three years before she died.
Born David Hunt in San Diego in 1952, Copley took on the surname of his adoptive father, former publisher of the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune newspapers James Copley, who wed Copley’s mother in 1965. The Union and Tribune merged in 1992.
Under Copley’s stewardship, the Union-Tribune and Copley News Service won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for their coverage of disgraced ex-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and the bribe-taking that sent him to prison.
Copley’s own run-ins with the law were well documented, as were the lavish parties he was known for hosting in his younger days. He was arrested several times for drunken driving beginning in the 1980s, once serving a week in a county labor camp, but the last such bust occurred a decade ago, in 2002.
In recent years, Copley continued his family’s philanthropy, funding Broadway musicals and Christo art installations. He also donated $5 million to Sharp Healthcare following his heart transplant and $6 million to UCLA to develop a center for costume design.
Retired Union-Tribune editor Karin Winner, who worked closely with Copley, told U-T San Diego that Copley “had an enormous capacity for humor and an uncanny ability to understand the bigger picture without having all the facts, which was a trait his mother had.”
“I know that it was hard on him to let the paper be sold but he thought it was what was best for the community and the employees at the time,” she said. “I’m really glad that he had the past few years to live his life the way he wanted to.”