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Maurice Kanbar, who eliminated sweaters and vodka, dies at 93

When he complained that spirits like bourbon and cognac gave him a headache, his doctor told him to switch to vodka. When he reported that she still had headaches even after one drink, his doctor explained that the vodka she was drinking probably contained congeners, which are the natural byproducts of the distillation process that cause headaches in some people. . Mr. Kanbar hired a distiller who figured out how to remove them and began selling a vodka he called Skyy (the weird spelling meant the name could be a trademark), introducing it to bartenders and reporters in San Francisco, where he had relocated. in 1984. .


“Not too many good ideas come from drinking a couple of screwdrivers,” wrote Robert Slager of The San Francisco Examiner when he reported on Skyy’s birth in 1992. When Kanbar saw David Letterman brandishing her on his late-night talk show, he thought he wrote in Secrets of an Inventor’s Notebook, published in 2001 by Council Oak Books (a publisher he happened to own), knew he was in for a hit. In 2001, he sold his majority stake in Skyy to Campari Group, the Italian distillery, for $207.5 million.

Maurice Kanbar was born Moshe Shama on March 1, 1929 in what was then Palestine and immigrated with his family to the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1936. His father, Meier Shama, was a house painter; his mother, Hana Kanbar Shama, was a chef and worked in hotels and summer camps. The given names of Moshe and his two brothers became Americanized, and when they were older they began to use his mother’s birth name.

Maurice studied chemistry and engineering at the Philadelphia Textile Institute, which later became the University of Philadelphia. His first business had been Harmaur Photographers, which he and a friend, Harvey Roer, started when Maurice was 13 and Harvey was 12. (They took photos of neighbors’ children.) In the late 1950s, they ran a textile company called The Spandex Corporation, which manufactured the elastic synthetic fiber Dupont invented but sold it at a lower price.

After moving to San Francisco, Mr. Kanbar invested in real estate there and made headlines for evicting former tenants from a building he owned. He also bought $100 million worth of property in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and invested in a tea company in Hawaii, among other ventures.

And it produced movies, notably “Hoodwinked,” a 2005 animated reworking of the Little Red Riding Hood story that did fairly well at the box office, and its sequel, “Hoodwinked Too!” (2011), which did not. He was a generous donor, primarily to educational institutions, including the Cooper Union, New York University, and the University of Philadelphia, tor who gave $21 million in 2014.

Mr. Kanbar had some three dozen patents, including one for a spinning stick that turns into a pair of magnifying glasses. There were a few flops, a soft drink made with 80 percent cola and 20 percent diet cola being one example, as well as some inventions still on the market that many consumers may never have heard of, such as SooFoo ( short for Super Good Food). ), a grain product made from lentils, brown rice, barley, and other grains; Tangos, a puzzle game; and Zip Notes, a roller dispenser for Post-it-style note paper. He also trademarked the Wagel name for an idea for a healthy bagel, but never brought it to market.

Susan Beachy contributed research.


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