Alfred Steele was a successful businessman who rose to fame as the president and chairman of the board of Pepsi-Cola Company. He was also the fourth and final husband of Hollywood actress Joan Crawford. His sudden death in 1959 shocked the world and left a lasting impact on his widow and the soft drink industry. Here is what you need to know about Alfred Steele’s cause of death and his legacy.
Early Life and Career
Alfred Nu Steele was born on April 24, 1901, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was the son of Edgar Alfred Steele, a teacher, and his wife Fannie Bartrem. His middle name “Nu” was an homage to his father’s fraternity “Sigma Nu”. The family later moved to Missouri, where Steele graduated from high school. He then attended Northwestern University, where he played football and majored in business administration.
After college, Steele pursued a career in advertising and marketing. He worked for various companies, such as the Chicago Tribune, Standard Oil of Indiana, and D’arcy Advertising Company. He also worked for Coca-Cola before switching to Pepsi-Cola in 1949. He quickly climbed the ranks and became the president of Pepsi-Cola in 1950. He was credited with expanding the company’s global presence and increasing its sales and profits. He also introduced the slogan “The Light Refreshment” and the jingle “Be Sociable, Have a Pepsi”.
Marriage to Joan Crawford
Steele met Joan Crawford, one of the most famous and glamorous stars of Hollywood, in 1954. They were both divorced and in their 50s. They fell in love and married spontaneously on May 10, 1955, at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Steele became Crawford’s fourth and final husband, and the father figure to her four adopted children: Christina, Christopher, and twins Cathy and Cynthia.
The couple moved to New York in 1956, where they bought and merged two top-floor apartments at 2 East 70th Street into a spacious penthouse with views of Central Park. They also traveled extensively, both for business and pleasure. Steele often took Crawford to Pepsi-Cola events and meetings, where she charmed the executives and customers. Crawford also supported Steele’s work and became interested in the soft drink industry. She once said, “I thought I could be different, that I could have it all. And I did — for a little while — with Alfred. I’ll always treasure our brief time together.”
Alfred Steele Cause of Death
Steele’s life and career were cut short by a tragic event on April 19, 1959. He was attending a Pepsi-Cola board meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, when he suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was 58 years old, just five days shy of his 59th birthday. His death certificate listed the cause of death as “occlusion coronary”, which is when a buildup of plaque blocks the coronary artery for more than 90 days, starving the heart of oxygen. This was brought upon by artery disease, which takes time to develop.
Steele’s death was a huge shock and loss for his family, friends, and colleagues. Crawford was devastated and inconsolable. She later said, “I don’t think I ever really lived until I met Al Steele. He was the first man who ever gave me real companionship, real love.” She also inherited his $2 million debt, which he had accumulated from his lavish lifestyle and gambling habits. She had to sell some of her assets, such as her Brentwood mansion and her jewelry, to pay off the creditors.
Legacy and Impact
Despite his sudden death, Steele left a lasting legacy and impact on the world. He was widely regarded as one of the most influential and visionary leaders of the soft drink industry. He transformed Pepsi-Cola from a struggling company into a global giant and a fierce rival of Coca-Cola. He also paved the way for Crawford’s involvement in the business. She was appointed to the board of directors of Pepsi-Cola after his death, and became the first woman to hold such a position in a major American corporation. She remained on the board until 1973, and promoted Pepsi-Cola in her films and public appearances.
Steele was also remembered as a loving husband and father, who gave Crawford and her children happiness and stability. He was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hartsdale, Westchester, New York, where Crawford later joined him in 1977. His name and image are still associated with Pepsi-Cola and Crawford, two of the most iconic brands of the 20th century.