Robert A. Altman, who went from bank
president to video game CEO, dies at 73
Feb. 5, 2021 at 11:04 p.m.
Robert A. Altman, a Washington
lawyer who was acquitted of trying
to defraud bank regulators in the
BCCI scandal of the 1990s, then
reinvented himself as the chief
executive of ZeniMax Media, a
video game company he built into
a multibillion-dollar juggernaut, died
Feb. 3 at a hospital in Baltimore.
He was 73.
The cause was complications from
a medical procedure, his son, James,
said. Mr. Altman had negotiated a
$7.5 billion deal in September for
Microsoft to acquire ZeniMax, the
Rockville, Md.-based parent company of video game giant Bethesda Softworks.
The acquisition was a validation of sorts for Mr. Altman, who started ZeniMax in 1999 after
partnering with Christopher Weaver, a software developer who had founded Bethesda
Softworks more than a decade earlier. Initially intended as a media and technology company,
ZeniMax refocused on video games in the wake of the dot-com bubble, developing and
publishing megahit franchises such as Doom, Quake, Fallout, Wolfenstein and the Elder
As chief executive, Mr. Altman acquired a host of game developers and used his political
connections to stock the advisory board with figures such as former U.S. senator George J.
Mitchell, CBS chief Les Moonves, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe
and President Donald Trump’s younger brother, Robert.“If you love our games, it’s because of
Robert’s love for what we did, and his trust in our dreams,” Emil Pagliarulo, design director for
Bethesda Game Studios, said on Twitter.Long before he entered the video game industry, Mr.
Altman was a sought-after lawyer, a protege to Clark M. Clifford, the former defense secretary
and adviser to Democratic presidents. Together, they counseled corporate clients and
politicians such as Jim Wright, who resigned as speaker of the U.S. House during an ethics
investigation, and Bert Lance, who left as President
Jimmy Carter’s budget director following concerns about his personal finances.“When Altman
and Clifford work cases together, it is said in the legal community, they are a formidable tag
team,” The Washington Post reported in 1991. “Clifford is the genial good cop who calls up
and confers the compliment of humbly introducing himself to a new adversary; Altman is the
one who calls later and threatens scorched earth if you don’t back down.”
Mr. Altman and his wife, former “Wonder Woman” star Lynda Carter, at the 2003 Kennedy
Center Honors gala. (Lucian Perkins/The Washington Post) Mr. Altman had grown up in the
District, where his father co-founded the law firm Krooth & Altman and his mother created
“It’s Academic,” considered the world’s longest-running television quiz show. By the early
1990s, he was living in a 20,000-square-foot house in Potomac, Md., with his wife, former
Miss World USA and “Wonder Woman” TV star Lynda Carter. Together, they mingled with
athletes and politicians such as Chris Evert and John Dingell, who taught Mr. Altman how to
Mr. Altman graduated from Woodrow Wilson High (1964), received a bachelor’s degree
from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1968 and earned his law degree from George
Washington University in 1971. He joined the law firm of Clifford & Warnke that same year
after clerking there as a student.