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Friday, April 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:03 A.M.

Healthful-food crusader Phil Sokolof dies at 82

By Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times

Phil Sokolof
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Phil Sokolof, a self-made millionaire and anti-cholesterol crusader who spent millions waging a nearly two-decade campaign against fast-food chains, food processors and dairies, died yesterday. He was 82.

Mr. Sokolof, founder of the National Heart Savers Association, had been in good health but became ill yesterday and died at an Omaha, Neb., hospital, his daughter, Karen Sokolof Javitch, told The Associated Press. The cause was not immediately available.

Mr. Sokolof's campaigns are credited with helping spur notable changes. Several fast-food chains switched to vegetable oil after he called attention to their use of beef tallow to cook French fries. And many large food processors stopped using highly saturated coconut and palm oil in crackers and cookies after another ad campaign.

Mr. Sokolof, who survived a near-fatal heart attack in 1966 at age 43 and took cholesterol-lowering drugs, sold his Omaha-based Phillips Manufacturing in 1992 to devote all his time to his anti-cholesterol crusade, launched in 1985.

He generated national attention by buying full-page ads in newspapers across the country.

One campaign against the dairy industry's labeling of 2 percent milk as "low fat" cost him $500,000 for ads in 40 newspapers, but his message had a residual effect: It spurred calls from major newspapers, "The Phil Donohue Show" and a live appearance on NBC's "Today," whose host, Bryant Gumbel, introduced Mr. Sokolof as "America's No. 1 Cholesterol Fighter."

Mr. Sokolof, who spent about $15 million of his fortune on his crusade to spur Americans to eat more healthful foods, ran a $2.5 million commercial during the 2000 Super Bowl urging Americans to take cholesterol-lowering drugs.

He viewed as his greatest achievement a series of ads in 1990 that backed federal legislation by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to require nutritional labels. Waxman last year credited the ads with gathering public support.

"He was a one-man show," Waxman said. "He cared, and he was willing to fight for what he believed in."

Mr. Sokolof's wife, Ruth Sokolof, had glandular cancer for many years. Yet she not only reared their children, Steven and Karen, but she taught blind and disabled students and helped found a school for blind children.

"She made me a more caring person," said Mr. Sokolof, who lived alone after her death in 1982.

Mr. Sokolof told The Dallas Morning News in 1992 he had "enough money to carry on my campaigns as long as I am able. I'll never retire. I'll be working until they carry me out feet first."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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