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Celebrity publicist Clifford dies during sex crimes sentence

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 10, 2017

Prominent media PR and celebrity publicist Max Clifford arrives for sentencing at Southwark Crown Court in London, on May 2, 2014. (Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press)
Prominent media PR and celebrity publicist Max Clifford arrives for sentencing at Southwark Crown Court in London, on May 2, 2014. (Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press)
By Danica Kirka Associated Press

LONDON – Disgraced celebrity publicist Max Clifford, a confidant to the stars who fell from grace amid Britain’s investigation of past sexual abuse, died Sunday after collapsing in prison. He was 74.

Once one of the most powerful figures in British entertainment, Clifford was convicted in 2014 of eight counts of indecent assault stemming from attacks on teenagers dating back more than 40 years.

He was serving an 8-year prison sentence at Littlehey Prison in Cambridgeshire when he died, Britain’s Ministry of Justice said.

Clifford was once as well known as the people he represented – the go-to guy for celebrities looking to limit the damage from drug problems, legal issues or declining popularity.

His clients included TV mogul Simon Cowell and former Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, as well as dozens of ordinary people who found themselves in the news vortex and sought to sell their stories to the press – a common practice in Britain.

The public relations guru was arrested in December 2012 amid allegations that he lured girls as young as 14 into sex by offering them acting roles. Clifford immediately swung into damage-control mode, vowing to clear his name of the charges, some of which stemmed from the 1970s and ’80s.

“The allegations in respect of which I have been charged are completely false – very upsetting, very distressing, but completely false,” he told reporters outside his home at the time. “I have never indecently assaulted anyone in my life, and this will become clear during the course of the proceedings.”

Clifford was arrested as part of an investigation called Operation Yewtree, a wide-ranging inquiry into allegations of past offenses spurred by the case of Jimmy Savile, a well-known British entertainer accused of abusing hundreds of girls and women. He died in 2011.

The Savile case shocked Britain and embarrassed his employer, the BBC, which was accused of killing an investigation into Savile’s alleged crimes.

The resulting upheaval is comparable to the stream of sexual misconduct allegations leveled at American actors, politicians and media personalities following revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Before he was arrested, Clifford told the Associated Press that he was receiving calls from many celebrities and entertainers who were worried they would be caught up in the widening Savile investigation.

“They’re phoning me and saying, ‘Max, I’m worried that I’m going to be implicated,’” Clifford said at the time. “A lot of them can’t remember what they did last week, never mind 30 or 40 years ago.”

Clifford’s daughter Louise told the Mail on Sunday that her father first collapsed on Thursday as he was trying to tidy his prison cell. He collapsed again the following day and was taken to a hospital, where suffered a heart attack.

She told the newspaper he had been in a “bad way” in a critical care unit.

“It was just too much,” she said.

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