One of the premier PR men of his generation, Eddie Michaels, succumbed last night in his lengthy battle with brain cancer and died at age 49. Michaels was surrounded at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center by a coterie of industry friends, clients, his wife Lorin and his children, 7-year-old Matthew and 11-year-old daughter Dylan. To see a good guy go so young is heartbreaking to me today. I met Eddie when I had just moved over from Weekly Variety to Daily Variety. I was the Long Island kid who had upset the order of things by breaking film stories that were ordinarily the domain of L.A.-based trade reporters. He called me, riled about some story I’d broken on Allen and Albert Hughes, who didn’t want the details on a project out there because it was not at the studio where they’d made an overall deal, or at least that’s how I remember it. The phone call started out testy — me saying something arrogant like “you can work with me or just get out of my way” — but by the end, I could tell this guy was going to be important to me. And boy, was he ever.
Eddie was something of a throwback to what I imagined those old publicists to be. He ran his own shop, Insignia, forever. He was trustworthy, knew exactly what I needed, or what Claudia Eller needed at the LA Times, or Bruce Orwall at the Wall Street Journal, or any number of other journalists whose jobs he made easier. Our relationship evolved to a shorthand. He also knew exactly where and when to put his clients, not for volume placement, but where a strong piece served them best. He was a calm voice when one of them had a crisis.“Eddie was the best … wise, compassionate, elegant,” said Chris Meledandri. Michaels was his publicist when he left Fox Animation to launch Illumination Entertainment at Universal, and Michaels has repped him through a fast rise as Illumination has become one of the more successful company launches in recent years. “He was a friend to everyone who worked with him,” Meledandri said. “No one could resist his great spirit. I was incredibly fortunate to have him in my life in such a substantial way. He helped me build Illumination from day one, and his guidance was flawless. His nobility and strength over the last year was extraordinary, and I will miss him. He just wanted to keep working through all of the struggle of battling cancer and debilitating treatment. He kept calling me with ideas for stories and then would insist on accompanying me, no matter how difficult it was for him. There was no reasoning with him, he was leading the mission. Down to the Santa Monica offices of KCRW or across town to Bloomberg, he was there with the same steady hand. Nobility. Generosity. Quiet Strength, indomitable spirit. Eddie.”
I work all the time with terrific publicists but never met one who was more effective for his clients, and it didn’t surprise me that so many stayed with him for decades. “We worked with each other every single day for the last 20 years,” said Noah Wyle, who began working with Michaels not long after Wyle went from waiting tables in that pricey Russian restaurant in the Bel Age Hotel to making rounds as a young doctor on ER. “He was the first phone call in times of celebration and also times of tragedy, and not a day goes by where the words ‘let me see what Eddie thinks about this’ doesn’t leave my lips. It is inconceivable to me that he is not here.”
Michaels was more than a colleague to me. He became a good friend, and I can’t recall knowing someone who spent more time on the phone than he did. Once he came out to Long Island and we went fishing on my boat. The water was choppy, and I kept telling him that he ought to put the phone down. He’d promise, right after the next call. Finally, he dropped the phone on the deck when the wake of another boat hit us. The phone slid down towards the rear, right under a small door and into the drink. I offered to call his number and see how his phone was faring. Instead, he spent the rest of the time on my phone.
Eddie had a health scare about seven years ago, when he passed out at his desk and had an emergency operation on what was discovered to be a brain tumor. He lived for his clients, but by that time had found a great girl from Texas, Lorin, and this was around the time they had their second child. So this was a real scare for him. He rallied and put it behind him. And then the tumor came back about a year ago. He spent the time since then battling with chemotherapy, which took its toll. I could hear the weariness in his voice when we spoke, but he would usually change the subject to business, or sports (he loved the Lakers and Dodgers). Or anything else.
He sold his business to Beck Media & Marketing, and focused on his clients that included Wyle, Illumination Entertainment, Lou Diamond Phillips, and others. He battled to the end, continuing to represent his clients even as his health failed him, always the optimist that he’d get past this. The surgeons who operated on him long ago told his loved ones last night that he’d done well to get seven more years of birthday parties, ballgames, and life with his kids. They said it doesn’t happen often. He leaves behind not only his family, but journalists like me who will never forget him, and a lot of bright publicists who trained under him and won’t forget him either. I really loved this guy.