Otis Chandler took a newspaper that had generated almost as much ridicule as revenue and turned it into one of the nation's best. (Los Angeles Times / October 15, 2014)

Sulzberger recalled decades later that he once walked into Chandler's office "and found him hanging upside down in the doorway, like a bat. He said it was good for his back."

Chandler was an exotic, at times mythic figure among the nation's newspaper executives, most of whose exertions and excursions outside the boardroom were generally limited to golf courses and cruise ships.

"There is something about him that suggests if Otis Chandler hadn't existed, Ernest Hemingway would have created him," the Christian Science Monitor said in 1980. "When he strides out of a meeting to shake hands, it is like looking up at a California redwood."

Anthony Day, The Times' editorial page editor from 1971 until 1989, once said: "After I had been working for Otis for a few years, it occurred to me that I was working for a prince, a man who had been raised to be a prince."

Chandler, he said, loved being publisher. "But he also had a prince's sense of entitlement, a sense that perhaps I don't have to do this every damn day," he added.

Surely, Chandler was the only publisher of his -- or any -- generation to have been profiled not only in Time, Newsweek and Editor & Publisher but in such magazines as Road & Track, Strength and Health, and Safari Club -- and to be depicted on the cover of the Atlantic Monthly in his bathing suit, riding a surfboard made of newspapers through the curl of a massive whitecap of dollar bills.

A go-anywhere, ride-any-wave surfer for more than 60 years, Chandler also hunted big game on safaris and raced high-speed cars and motorcycles on official tracks and urban freeways.

"I like living on the edge," he said in a 1999 interview, five months after his 71st birthday and two weeks after he suffered minor head injuries when he spun out in one of his Ferraris near the vintage-car and wildlife museum he owned in Oxnard.

By his own count, Chandler had at least half a dozen brushes with death over the years, and that didn't include his bout with prostate cancer in 1989 or his mild heart attack in 1998.

While he was hunting in Mozambique in 1964, an elephant charged him, his wife and their guide. When the guide missed his shot and ran off in a panic, Chandler shot the elephant in the leg at a distance of 10 yards, deflecting the animal just enough to send it thundering past them.

In 1995, when he was 68, his motorcycle collided with a tractor in New Zealand, leaving him with part of the big toe on his left foot missing, another toe severely damaged and the rest of the foot largely numb.

His most serious accident came in 1990, when a musk ox trampled him in the Northwest Territories of Canada and he had to be airlifted to a hospital. Doctors said his right arm, yanked from its socket by the impact, would be virtually useless for the rest of his life.

"They said I might be able to lift my hand to my mouth, but just barely and only after two years and only if I exercised it properly," he recalled. "They told me I'd have to learn to do everything left-handed."

With characteristic tenacity, Chandler exercised the arm rigorously, and six months later he could lift it over his head. Ultimately, he was able to do everything right-handed, he said, "except serve hard in tennis."

Not Pampered, Never Effete

Born in Los Angeles on Nov. 23, 1927, Chandler was the only son of Norman Chandler and Dorothy Buffum Chandler. Although Halberstam would later say, "No single family dominates any other region of this country as the Chandlers have dominated California," Otis had a far-from-pampered upbringing and was never a man who could be described as effete.

"He used the same tone of voice with the president of the United States and the guy who came to change the lightbulbs in his office," said Donna Swayze, his executive secretary from 1962 to 1988.

John Thomas remembers meeting Chandler -- and not knowing who he was -- when Chandler took one of his Porsches to the auto dealership where Thomas worked as the parts manager in the late 1960s. The two men introduced themselves as "J.T." and "Oats" (Chandler's longtime family nickname), struck up a conversation about motorcycles and soon began dirt-biking together.

"When I asked what he did, he just said, 'I work at The Times,' " Thomas recalled. "But after about 18 months, I accepted an invitation to his house for dinner, and when I drove up to this huge mansion in San Marino, I thought, 'Holy cow!' When I got inside, I said, 'Well, just what do you do at The Times?' "

Only then did Chandler tell Thomas about himself and his family. Despite the enormous difference in their socioeconomic status, the two remained close friends for more than 30 years.