Andrew Breitbart Dead at 43

Andrew Breitbart Conference 2006 - H 2012
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Andrew Breitbart Conference 2006 - H 2012

UPDATED: The new-media provocateur who was working behind the scenes with Hollywood's conservative subculture died of natural causes.

Andrew Breitbart, a new-media pioneer who was helping spearhead a conservative movement in the entertainment industry with his Big Hollywood blog and by helping to organize large, sometimes underground events that attracted as many as 2,000 Republicans working in the film and TV industry, died early Thursday morning. He was 43.

Breitbart, an Internet journalist perhaps best known as the man who brought down Rep. Anthony Weiner over a scandal involving the  congressman's inappropriate tweets, died of natural causes after collapsing near his Brentwood home.

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Breitbart's media career began as a low-level employee for E! Entertainment. His path to new-media stardom started when Matt Drudge hired him to edit his then-fledgling Internet site, the Drudge Report.

After leaving Drudge, Breitbart helped Arianna Huffington start the largely liberal-leaning Huffington Post, an odd job for a conservative rebel, though Breitbart maintained that he relished debate and that HuffPo was a great vehicle to "expose the agenda of the left."

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On Thursday, Breitbart's passing was the top story at the Drudge Report and at AOL, which has since purchased the Huffington Post.

Breitbart became a sought-after TV and radio pundit after he took control of a press conference in June where Weiner admitted his lurid tweets and exonerated Breitbart, whom the then-congressman had previously accused of hacking into his Twitter account.

Breitbart seemed to crave controversy, and he drummed up plenty of it. He was behind the edited video that took down former Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod, as well as the undercover video that caused Congress to defund the left-wing community group ACORN.

In the past few years, Breitbart had become a favorite target of liberals in the media, constantly scrutinized by Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews,  the watchdog group Media Matters for America and others.

As a Tea Party favorite, Breitbart often appeared alongside Sarah Palin at events where conservative activists treated him as if he were a rock star.

Breitbart, in fact, cited negative coverage of the Tea Party as a primary example of bias among the majority of journalists at CNN, MSNBC, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and other mainstream outlets, which he dismissed as being part of the "Democrat Media Complex," more interested in promoting a liberal agenda than reporting the truth.

In 2010, members of the Black Congressional Caucus strolled through a Tea Party gathering with hundreds of TV and cell-phone cameras trained on them. When they later claimed that the protesters spat on them and hurled racial epithets, Breitbart offered to donate $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund if anyone presented video proof of the allegations. The prize went uncollected.

Breitbart frequently attended left-wing protests, as well. Always the showman and with a camera crew nearby, he'd loudly accuse attendees of being misinformed and bait them into confrontation, one time even doing so while dancing around them on rollerblades.

As an enemy of Occupy Wall Street, Breitbart called out as hypocrites the rich celebrities like Michael Moore who support the movement, which he said promotes "radical and destructive socialist policies."

The influence of the media, entertainment and pop culture -- more so than political policy -- was Breitbart's passion. He charged Hollywood with a double standard that allowed liberals to say what they pleased but punished conservatives for the slightest transgressions.

Breitbart appeared frequently at events where Hollywood conservatives like Kelsey Grammer, Jon Voight, Robert Duvall, Tom Selleck and Dennis Miller gathered with rank-and-file film and TV workers for fellowship. Breitbart's Big Hollywood blog, in fact, was founded as an online destination for conservatives working in Hollywood.

"We have lost a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a dear friend, a patriot and a happy warrior," the staff at Big Hollywood and others of Breitbart's blogs wrote in a short message Thursday. "Andrew lived boldly, so that we more timid souls would dare to live freely and fully, and fight for the fragile liberty he showed us how to love."

Breitbart's courage to be politically incorrect was a theme in conservative media on Thursday.

"He was fearless," Sean Hannity said on the Fox News Channel.

At left-wing events, "Andrew loved nothing more than to go down with a camera and challenge them," said Hannity. "Where many people would say that was the last place I’d want to be, Andrew loved nothing more than to be in the middle of it."

Breitbart has cited as a large influence his father-in-law Orson Bean, the actor who was blacklisted in the 1950s as a suspected Communist though, politically, has taken a right turn since then. Breitbart's stepmother-in-law is actress Alley Mills, best known for her role as the mom on The Wonder Years.

"It’s the conservatives who are challenged by the reigning order of political correctness," Breitbart said in an interview with Paul Krassner for Playboy. "There’s nothing transformative or dangerous about a liberal in Hollywood or a Sarah Silverman or a Chris Rock being offensive, because they know they’re granted a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card, whereas Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter exist outside that comfortable order. So I’m rooting for those people over the ones like Jon Stewart, who are in a protected class."

Breitbart was raised in Brentwood, Calif., by his secular Jewish parents who adopted him and his younger sister, Tracy. He attended Tulane University and considered himself a liberal until the early 1990's. His transformation to conservatism began when he watched Democrats treat Clarence Thomas so harshly during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Later, he'd tune in to conservative talk radio -- primarily Limbaugh and Dennis Prager -- while delivering scripts for a production company.

Breitbart was pronounced dead at UCLA Medical Center. Along with his parents and sister, he is survived by his wife Susannah Bean Breitbart and their four children; sons 4, 6 and 12 and a daughter, 10.