updated 3/21/2004 2:40:27 AM ET 2004-03-21T07:40:27

Brian Maxwell, founder of the multimillion-dollar PowerBar empire and a former world-class marathon runner, has died of a heart attack, friends said. He was 51.

Maxwell collapsed Friday at a post office, and emergency personnel were unable to resuscitate him after workers called 911. He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Maxwell and his wife Jennifer, a nutritionist, co-founded the popular energy bar company in 1986 and began selling PowerBars out of their kitchen.

Over the next decade, the Berkeley, Calif.-based firm grew to $150 million in sales and 300 employees. In March 2000, the couple sold the company to Nestle SA for a reported $375 million.

Maxwell, who was born in London but grew up in Toronto, represented Canada in many international competitions as a long-distance runner. He was part of the 1980 Olympic team that boycotted the games in Moscow.

In 1977 Maxwell was ranked the No. 3 marathon runner in the world by Track and Field News.

Maxwell came up with the idea of an energy bar after he had to drop out of a 26.2-mile marathon race at the 21-mile mark _ about the point where experts say the body ceases burning carbohydrates and begins burning muscle tissue.

Maxwell is survived by his wife and five children.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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