Max Clifford, the celebrity publicist and convicted sex offender, died on Sunday aged 74, while serving an eight-year prison sentence for a string of indecent assault charges.
For almost three decades before his spectacular fall in a courtroom in 2014, Clifford gained notoriety as one of the most influential figures in the UK’s newspaper industry.
He sold salacious stories — some true, some denied — to sleaze-hungry tabloids and populist Sunday newspapers involving figures in public life, from footballer David Beckham to former Conservative politicians Neil Hamilton and David Mellor.
With his shock of white hair, Clifford became as famed as the celebrities whose alleged sex-scandals were splashed across many front pages, only to be brought down by a sex scandal of his own.
Born in 1943 in Surrey into relative poverty, Clifford was drawn to the newspaper world after an unsuccessful stint in a department store, where he stuck glue to the chair on which his manager was about to sit.
He was much happier in the print industry, thoroughly enjoying his first job as an assistant on Eagle, the boys’ comic.
From there he went into local journalism and then into public relations in the music industry, falling on his feet at EMI with a role handling publicity for The Beatles when he was just 19 years old.
It was in the 1980s and 1990s that he made his name as a feared and powerful spin-doctor, brokering scoops for the tabloids and charging fees of up to £300,000 for stories that the British public lapped up.
His biggest break came with The Sun newspaper’s “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster” front page, a nonsensical story that the entertainer wanted killed, only to be persuaded by Clifford that it would be wonderful publicity.
Clifford mined a rich seam of stories about Conservative politicians, portraying himself as keen to expose hypocrisy and claiming he had tired of “watching them destroy the National Health Service”.
Mr Mellor described him as “a vile influence on the British press,” after the former cabinet minister was forced to resign over an alleged affair with the actress Antonia de Sancha that Clifford had handled.
Along the way were stories about women pregnant with multiple babies or terminally ill people recounting their experience in instalments.
Clifford’s autobiography, Read All About It, published in 2006, was full of stories about his mistresses, sex parties — and charity work.
His death brings down further the curtain on a particular era of excess in the British media, which reached its apotheosis with the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper empire.
It also punctuates a public reckoning over the sexual harassment of young and vulnerable women by powerful men, typified by the storm over the Harvey Weinstein revelations.
That transition was evident with the The Sun’s decision in 2015 to drop pictures of bare-breasted women on page 3, four years after its sister paper in Mr Murdoch’s media empire, News of the World, was shut after the phone-hacking controversy.
Mr Murdoch’s Fox News was caught up in sexual harassment scandals that led to the dismissal of Roger Ailes, the network’s former chairman.
Meanwhile, the alleged sexual impropriety lodged by numerous women against Mr Weinstein, a Hollywood producer, has fast spread into the world of politics in both the US and UK.
Clifford’s sleaze-mongering caught up with him five years ago when he was arrested and charged with sexual abuse, in a police investigation instigated in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
In 2014, Clifford was sentenced to an eight-year prison term after being found guilty of eight counts of indecent assault between 1977 and 1985, including on girls aged 15.
Clifford denied the charges and lodged an appeal in 2016, after an earlier unsuccessful attempt. Appearing in court that year, he likened jail to “being buried alive”.