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Friends said his defeat in a multi-billion pound legal fight against Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich in London last year had eaten away at his fortune and led to a spiral of depression.
“He had no money, he had lost it all,” Tim Bell, one of his closest British advisors, told the Sunday Times newspaper. “He was unbelievably depressed.”
The Russian edition of Forbes magazine quoted Berezovsky as saying less than 24 hours before he was found dead that he had lost sight of the “point of life”.
“I do not know what to do. I am 67 years old. And I do not know what to do next,” it quoted him as saying in an interview in the Four Seasons restaurant, which it said it conducted off the record but was publishing anyway because of his death.
“I’ve … lost the point,” Berezovsky said.
“Of life?” asked the interviewer.
“The point of life,” Berezovsky agreed.
Berezovsky was born in Moscow on January 23, 1946. After graduating from the Moscow Institute of Timber Technology in 1967, he earned an advanced degree in physics and mathematics and membership in the prestigious Academy of Sciences.
A fierce opponent of communism, Berezovsky made his name selling cars and rose in the 1990s to control a vast financial empire based around the LogoVAZ industrial giant, which had its roots in the auto sales business.
As a friend of President Boris Yeltsin’s family, a financier of his 1996 re-election campaign and a board member of a main TV network, he helped Yeltsin overcome ill-health and a Communist challenge to win a new term.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov later compared Berezovsky to Rasputin, the wild-eyed monk and mystic who wielded influence over the family of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II.
Rewarded with a seat on Yeltsin’s national Security Council, he helped implement the peace deal that ended Russia’s first war with rebels in the Chechnya region and was a go-between in talks to free hostages there.
Many - not least Berezovsky - say he played a key role in plucking Putin out of obscurity and engineering Yeltsin’s appointment of the former KGB officer as acting president when he stepped down abruptly on the last day of 1999.
“He presented (Putin) to the Russian establishment of that time, brought him into Boris Yeltsin’s close circle, and he was the first to believe that out of this indistinct bureaucrat, a successor could be made,” commentator Sergei Parkhomenko said.