Obituary: Michael Weinstein

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The Independent Online
Michael Brett Weinstein, life insurance salesman and collector, born Philadelphia Pennsylvania 2 February 1945, Metropolitan Life President's Trophy 1989, died London 25 August 1992.

Described by his company as 'the Shakespeare of life insurance', Michael Weinstein used his commission income to create a unique collection of the art of the Bourbon Restoration, and won the affection and respect of a wide circle of clients and friends.

He was born into a family of Philadelphia funeral directors and his childhood was dominated by the personality of his mother's father, Joseph Goldstein, founder of Goldstein's Funeral Parlors, the largest chain in Pennsylvania. Michael helped in the parlours at weekends but while his brother went to mortuary college and entered the family business, he studied history at the University of Rhode Island and came to Oxford in 1970 to do research on the urban geography of Philadelphia.

He moved to London in 1972 to earn money and live in style. In a few months he managed to talk his way into the London office of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and there he found his metier as a salesman of rare ability. His distinctive poise, immaculate dress, black Bentley and East End chauffeur-valet all drew attention, and the warmth and generosity of his extrovert personality turned many of his clients into friends. His sales were phenomenal, culminating in 1989 with the placing of dollars 250m of personal cover in a single year. He would prepare meticulously for each meeting, but would then deal with the client as his mercurial instincts suggested, now challenging, now disarming, now forcing the pace, now feigning indifference.

His skills were those of a virtuoso performer; he was generous with advice to others but frequently disconcerted his disciples by defying all the principles that he himself insisted on.

Michael Weinstein's friends will remember him most vividly as a lavish host in his flat in Kensington above the offices of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. On entering, visitors were caught by the glazed stare of a terracotta lifemask of Louis XVIII. In the drawing-room, a 'biscuit' model of Necker extolled Liberte et Propriete under the absent-minded smile of Marshal Murat, King of Naples. The discovery of the bust of Murat was one of many examples of Weinstein's flair as a collector. It had been labelled in a Notting Hill antique shop as a Roman emperor; Weinstein recognised Napoleon's brother-in-law at once by his curly sideburns.

The prints of emperors, tsars, sultans, kings and dukes that lined every wall of the flat revealed another aspect of Weinstein's perception and discrimination. As an art-form they were despised by dealers as mere 'reproductive engravings' but each item had a special interest for its collector, and when hung together they provided a rich display of the iconography of royal authority in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe.

Weinstein's penetrating interest in the workings of European courts and regimes was coupled with a sharp sense of evil and sham wherever it was present. Touring Spain in the 1970s he made a circuit of the Bourbon palaces that ring Madrid - Aranjuez, La Granja and El Pardo. El Pardo had been occupied by Franco until his death and had only just been opened to the public as a shrine to the general. The company of Franco loyalists gave a wry twist to the visit, and their reverence before his desk and ink-stand in the study was discomforting until Weinstein pointed maliciously to the inscribed photographs of foreign statesmen on display - only Kim Il Sung, President Ceausescu and Papa Doc.

Absorbed as he was in London life and fascinated as he was by European and Asian history, Michael Weinstein remained essentially American. When he travelled to Turkey in the early 1980s he was delighted to find all the Packards, Buicks, Mercurys and Oldsmobiles of his Philadelphia childhood careering round Istanbul as cheap taxis for multiple fares. On one occasion he pulled a friend and myself into a huge black sedan with a family of Anatolian villagers, and as we set off, chanted happily: 'See the USA in your Chevrolet - America's inviting you to call; see the USA in your Chevrolet - America's the greatest of all]'

(Photograph omitted)