BRUCE Wasserstein, the most celebrated dealmaker of the past 30 years, has died aged 61.<br /><br />Wasserstein, who served most recently as chairman and chief executive of investment bank Lazard, was admitted to hospital earlier this week with an irregular heartbeat and was said to be recovering until his death was announced last night.<br /><br />No cause of death has yet been announced. In a statement, the Lazard board said: &ldquo;We are shocked and greatly saddened by the passing of Bruce Wasserstein. He was a visionary leader, a devoted father to his children and a good friend.&rdquo;<br /><br />&ldquo;His commitment to his clients was legendary. We extend our sympathies to his family, particularly his wife and children, who meant the world to him.&rdquo;<br /><br />The fabled financier was credited with transforming the takeover environment from the days of gentlemen&rsquo;s agreements to the more aggressive battles familiar to the financial sector today.<br /><br />His ability to convince bidders to dig deep to secure deals earned him the moniker &ldquo;Bid &lsquo;em up Bruce,&rdquo; a nickname that the son of Eastern European immigrants is said to have detested. He advised on over 1,000 deals.<br /><br />Harvard and Cambridge graduate Wasserstein began his career as a lawyer with Cravath, Swaine &amp; Moore, but moved into banking with First Boston, where he and colleague Joseph Perella built up the bank&rsquo;s mergers and acquisitions operations.<br /><br />After a feud with First Boston&rsquo;s management, the pair left in 1988 to set up Wasserstein Perella &amp; Company, where Wasserstein sought to mimic the aura surrounding Lazard, the firm he went on to head.<br /><br />Perella left the company, but Wasserstein stayed on to lead the firm before selling it to Dresdner Bank in 2000 for around $1.4bn (&pound;874m). His net worth was recently estimated by Forbes magazine at $2.3bn.<br /><br />He was hired as chief executive of Lazard in 2002, where he transformed the business, taking it public after more than 100 years of private ownership. There he worked on a series of multi-billion dollar deals, most recently leading the team advising US foods giant Kraft on its $16.7bn bid for UK confectioner Cadbury. He is survived by his wife Christine and their three children.<br /><br />Lazard last night named vice chairman Steven Golub, a 25-year veteran of the firm, as interim chief executive, effective immediately. <br />