Ranan Lurie, an Israeli war hero and world peacemaker who set records as the world’s most widely syndicated political cartoonist, died on Wednesday in Las Vegas. He was 90.
His death, at an assisted living center, was confirmed by his son Rod Lurie.
At his peak, Mr. Lurie’s evocative caricatures appeared in about 1,000 publications with more than 100 million readers in 100 countries, setting a benchmark in the Guinness Book of Records in the 1980s (since surpassed by Johnny Hart, creator of The Wizard of Id and B.C.).
He welded drawing and writing into a mightier-than-the-sword instrument that gave voice to his strongly-held political opinions and whose imagery, he said, conveyed even greater impact than photography.
“Even if it is the most sophisticated camera in the world,” he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2017, “it will never be able to capture the person more accurately than the artist or the cartoonist who knows how to point out his true character.”
Other media can impart several points of view simultaneously, he told The Times in 1989, but the political cartoon can make only one, so “when I win,” he said, “I better win with a knockout.”
His first of some 12,000 cartoons was published in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in 1948, when he was 16 and recuperating in a hospital from an arm injury inflicted by a grenade during his time with the Irgun, the underground militia demanding that Britain redeem its decades-old promise to sanction a Jewish state.
“By chance, I had a pencil and some paper in the hospital, so I drew,” he said. “By the same token, if I had had a violin there, I might have been a great violinist today.”
In 1968, after working as a caricaturist for The Air Force Journal, an Israeli military publication, and as an illustrator and political cartoonist for Israeli newspapers, he was recruited by Life magazine, originally to deliver a first-person account of his role as a major in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
His work at Life led to later stints as a political cartoonist with Le Figaro, Paris Match, The Times of London, Die Welt in Germany, Asahi Shimbun in Japan, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, Time International, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs and The New York Times.
Mr. Lurie was a founder and editor in chief of Cartoonews, a current events and educational magazine; a member of Cartoonists for Peace, an international coalition; and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan public policy group based in Washington.
Mr. Lurie, who had fought in two Mideast wars as an Israeli, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 by Glafcos Clerides, the president of the Republic of Cyprus at the time, for, as he said, “creating a great spirit of understanding among the people of many races,” adding that Mr. Lurie had “helped in the effort to defuse political and other hot conflicts worldwide.”
Ranan Raymond Lurie was born on May 26, 1932, in Port Said, Egypt, where his parents had traveled from Tel Aviv so that his mother could give birth at the home of his paternal grandfather, Rabbi Isaiah Lurie, who was the chief agent there for the Carmel Mizrahi wine company. Two weeks later, they returned to Tel Aviv.
His father, Joseph, was an accountant and a member of the sixth-generation of his family to be born in Jerusalem. His mother, Shoshana (Shmuelewitz) Lurie, who was seventh-generation Jerusalem-born, was office manager for a utility company.
According to “The Lurie Legacy: The House of Davidic Royal Descent” (2004), by Neil Rosenstein, the family traces its ancestry to the Prophet Isaiah, the medieval French rabbi Rashi, Felix Mendelssohn and Sigmund Freud. The family had moved to Jerusalem in 1815.
“I was always good at drawing, even at age 4,” Mr. Lurie told The New York Times in 1995. “It gave me an overwhelming tool and the appetite to maintain and develop it.”
A school newspaper printed one of his cartoons when he was 10.
Fudging his age by two years, Ranan enlisted in the Irgun at 14 while still enrolled in school, the Herzliya Gymnasium in the coastal city of Herzliya. He trained to become a fighter pilot but was dismissed when he buzzed a beach in Herzliya so closely that a lifeguard dived in the water from his paddleboard to avoid the plane. He completed his high school education while working as a newspaper reporter.
In 1954, posing as an Australian journalist while working for the Israeli Defense Forces magazine, he talked his way onto an Egyptian warship moored in Venice and snapped detailed photographs of the ship’s classified Soviet radar technology. As a result, when he was 22, he became the first recipient of what became the Sokolow Prize, the journalism award conferred by the Tel Aviv municipality.
His first full-time job as a cartoonist was with The Air Force Journal. His artwork from that period was anthologized in 1955 in the first of his books, “Among the Suns.” (Many of his illustrations included a smiling sun icon.)
Among his other books was “The Cartoonist’s Story” (2004), alternately described as a novella and a memoir, in which an Israeli teenager is recruited by the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and wields his pen as a cartoonist to insinuate himself with world leaders and other powerful figures.
For a decade beginning in 1957, in his mid-20s, Mr. Lurie was the political cartoonist for Yediot Aharonot — the newspaper that had published his first cartoon when he was a teenager. It became Israel’s largest circulation daily.
In 1967, as a major in the Israeli reserves, he was exhibiting his work in a show of portraits at Expo 67 in Montreal when he was recalled to serve in the Six-Day War with neighboring Arab nations.
As the military governor of Anabta, a town in what is now the West Bank, he said, he personally intervened with Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, with whom he had become friendly by then, to halt the army’s order to deport the town’s Palestinian’s residents to Jordan.
He told Haaretz in 2017 that he had lectured his troops “not to lay a finger on an old man, a woman or a child.”
“One of them asked me what to do if a boy of 12 was holding a rifle,” Mr. Lurie added. “I said to him that even if we capture cannibals, we will not start eating human beings just because that’s what they do.”
After he was recruited by Life magazine, he moved to the United States, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1974. His cartoons were syndicated by King Features, Universal Press and The New York Times Syndicate. In 1985, he started his own syndicate, Cartoons International, which was managed by his wife, Tamar (Fletcher) Lurie, a real estate executive.
Before residing in Las Vegas, he lived in Manhattan and Greenwich, Conn. In addition to his son Rod, a film director and screenwriter, Mr. Lurie is survived by his wife; another son, Barak, who is a lawyer and a radio show host; and two daughters, Dr. Daphne Laurie, the directing psychologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, and Danielle Lurie, a movie director.
Among Mr. Lurie’s artwork outside of cartooning is “United Painting,” part of his Fine Art With a Mission project that originated in 2005 with a 75-foot-tall, 600-foot-long installation of multicolored squares and rectangles on display at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (The project’s stated mission was “to unite the world under the umbrella of goodwill and mutual respect.”) Additional sections of “United Painting” were later installed on a satellite orbiting the Earth; still others were delivered by Sherpas to the summit of Mount Everest.
Those peaks were a long way from where he started when Life originally invited him to the United States to promote his first-person account of the Arab-Israeli war, published in June 1967 under the title “A Major’s Long Ride to a Short War.”
“At that time, in 1968,” he told The Times, “we had no contacts, no old boys’ network, virtually no friends or money.
“Everything,” he said, “materialized from my 10 fingers.”