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Old 08-08-2008, 11:22 AM   #1
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Unhappy Producer Bernie Brillstein Dies at 77


Bernie Brillstein, pioneering manager and producer whose keen eye for talent led him to steer the careers of such stars as John Belushi and Jim Henson, has died. He was 77.
Brillstein had been suffering from complications stemming from double-bypass heart surgery in February.

A one-time WMA agent, Brillstein headed Hollywood's most successful management company in the 1980s and in the '90s in partnership with Brad Grey, now chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures. Clients whose careers were nurtured at Brillstein-headed shingles also included such biz heavyweights as Lorne Michaels, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, Geena Davis, Martin Short, Jim Belushi, Dabney Coleman, Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, Nicolas Cage, Rob Lowe and Jay Tarses.

In the 1980s, the Brillstein Co. was among the first contempo talent rep shingles to branch out into TV production in a significant way with shows packaged around clients, a list that included "Alf," "It's Garry Shandling's Show," "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" and "The Slap Maxwell Story."

In late 1991, when Brillstein partnered with Grey, who had joined Brillstein Co. in the mid-1980s as a manager, the company further expanded the scope of its film and TV operations. Brillstein-Grey Television fielded such noteworthy skeins as "The Sopranos," "Just Shoot Me," "NewsRadio," "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" and "The Larry Sanders Show." Brillstein-Grey Entertainment features included Adam Sandler's "Happy Gilmore," Jim Carrey's "The Cable Guy" and "The Replacement Killers."

An avuncular presence who sported shoulder-length white hair and a linebacker's build, Brillstein was well-known and well-liked in showbiz for his easy-going manner and candor. Grey bought out Brillstein's share in the Brillstein-Grey banner in 1996, but as a lover of the game, Brillstein continued to serve as founding partner repping a select group of clients. He maintained a regular presence in the offices of what is now Brillstein Entertainment Partners up until his recent surgery.

In 2004, he made a cameo appearance on "The Sopranos," playing in a poker game with Tony Soprano.

In addition to working as a manager and producer, Brillstein also wore a third hat in the late 1980s as an executive, serving as the head of film at the prosperous indie Lorimar. Lorimar bought his Brillstein Co. shingle when he joined the company in 1986, and it continued to operate as an autonomous management-production entity.

Brillstein stepped down as chairman and CEO of Lorimar Film Entertainment in late 1988 after the parent company was acquired by Warner Bros., and he returned to managing and producing full-time.

Brillstein credited much of his success to betting on the potential of clients who impressed him with their innate talents: "Good things begin with talent," Brillstein told Daily Variety in 1987. In a column he penned for Daily Variety in 2002, Brillstein lamented how the networks and studios no longer put much emphasis on scouting for and developing talent.

"Where has all the talent gone? Or, more to the point, where have all the people who love and respect talent gone?," Brillstein wrote. "There's nothing like the thrill you get in discovering a real talent; it's a great feeling to share that discovery with the world. And to know you were there for the beginning."

Early on in his career, Brillstein was mightily impressed by the talent and vision of a young puppeteer he'd met in New York. Brillstein repped Muppets creator Henson until the latter's death in 1990.

Brillstein's savvy business guidance played a major role in building Henson's Muppets empire, including the decision to cut a deal with the U.K.'s ITV to finance "The Muppet Show," which aired in the U.S. in first-run syndication from 1976-1981. Brillstein helped Henson move into features, and to strike innovative deals with HBO and a slew of international outlets for the critically praised 1980s kidvid skein "Fraggle Rock."

Brillstein was an influential force in the 1975 launch of NBC mainstay "Saturday Night Live," as the manager of the sketch comedy's creator/exec producer Michaels as well as comedians John Belushi, Aykroyd and Radner. (A more adult breed of Muppets also had a semi-regular presence on the early years of "SNL," thanks to the Brillstein connection.)

The success of "SNL" boosted Brillstein's clout in the biz considerably, as his clients were suddenly in demand for movie roles. Brillstein began serving as an exec producer on many of his clients’ features after John Belushi expressly asked him to take on that role in 1980's "The Blues Brothers."

Belushi's later descent into the drug and alcohol abuse that killed him at age 33 in 1982 was devastating to Brillstein, who had tried to convince the comic to seek treatment and temper his hard living.

Born April 26, 1931 in New York, Brillstein got his first exposure to showbiz through his uncle, Ziegfeld Follies comic Jack Pearl. After graduating from New York U., Brillstein got his start in the WMA mailroom in New York. He didn't stay in the mailroom long. After nine years with WMA, Brillstein moved on in 1964 to join talent rep firm Management III.

Three years later, Brillstein relocated to Los Angeles to open up a West Coast office for Management III. As a fledgling operation on the West Coast, he knew he had no shot at signing big-name movie stars, so he made the fortuitous decision to focus on signing writers, producers and directors.

As those clients became successful in TV, Brillstein's fortunes rose. By 1969, he went out on his own with the Brillstein Co. Among the first big successes he packaged was the long-running syndie hit "Hee Haw."

Brillstein wittily recounted his showbiz experiences in three popular books that were part memoir and part Hollywood how-to tomes: 1999's "Where Did I Go Right?" and 2004's "The Little Stuff Matters Most" and "It's All Lies, and That's The Truth."
As long as people talk about you, you're not really dead. As long as they speak your name, you continue. A legend doesn't die just because the man does.

Last edited by Zoneboy; 08-08-2008 at 12:32 PM.
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Old 08-08-2008, 11:24 AM   #2
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Default Quite a Resume' to Say the Least

Bernie Brillstein

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Old 08-08-2008, 04:25 PM   #3
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That's a shame.

May he rest in peace.
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Old 08-09-2008, 02:27 AM   #4
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he was a class act in a biz that seemes to have so few of them r i p bernie
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Old 08-11-2008, 03:30 PM   #5
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rest in peace
Who Dat
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