Related: R.I.P. Tom Sherak
I went out to see Tom Sherak yesterday to say goodbye. As I headed out on the 101 Freeway to see him, every memory I had of him came rushing back. I first met Tom more than 20 years ago, and it wasn’t under the best of circumstances. It was 1992, and I was a reporter at The Hollywood Reporter covering film. It was the year of the Los Angeles riots, which had been sparked by the acquittals of four police officers who’d beaten Rodney King mercilessly. Fox had a movie coming out called Unlawful Entry, and there was scene of a white cop beating a black man, and I found out about it. I was writing up the story, when my editor, Alex Ben Block, came out of his office. Tom had called Alex and asked him not to run the story. It was news, so we printed it. Tom called me afterward and said: “I will never forget what you did. I asked for a favor, and you guys said no.” If there’s one thing everyone knew about Tom Sherak, it’s that he would forgive, but he would never forget — and he had a very long memory.
After that, I was a non-entity to Tom. Of course, we would bump into each other, and he would flash me that closed-mouth smile. Anyone who ever got on his wrong side knows that smile.
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It didn’t matter that we had so many mutual friends, including the late marketing guru Geoff Ammer and my dear friend Karen Sortito, both of whom have passed. With Tom, if you were out, you were out. But over time, the animosity slowly wore off as we found that we thought highly about the same people and had much in common. He was working tirelessly to raise money for multiple sclerosis after his daughter was afflicted with the disease, and he found out that I was raising money for muscular dystrophy, also because of a family member. And, of course, the paths of our lives just kept crossing over and over and over again. I never lost hope that one day he would come around, because I knew that he was a good man with a good heart. Everyone knew that. He was a mench.
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Years later, when he was at Revolution Studios, he and other executives had a meeting with me and my editors from the Los Angeles Times. He and I looked at each other across the table, and that uneasiness was replaced by quiet understanding. We both let others lead the conversation. He asked a few very smart questions, and I kept my mouth shut as an editor responded with some very lame answers. Tom and I exchanged knowing glances. We were on the same page. There was a shorthand between us, one that many people experience in their own lives, among those who know and those who don’t. Afterward, he pulled me aside and we spoke privately. He gave me some words of wisdom, almost like those a father would give a daughter, with which I agreed wholeheartedly, and then I left.
Within days of that meeting, my path would, very unfortunately, change forever when my life was threatened and my phones wiretapped, in what came to be known as the Anthony Pellicano case. When word spread of the wiretaps, my sources began drying up. No one wanted to talk to me on the phone anymore for fear that their conversations would be compromised. Sadly, that included Tom.
Years later, one of my dearest friends, Karen Sortito, died from a brain tumor. I was in a wheelchair at the time and couldn’t get to her memorial — a memorial that Sherak led. Afterward, Tom called wondering where I had been. I told him that I had an accident and that my body wasn’t healing right anymore from the stress of the Pellicano case. I couldn’t walk, I told him. “You should have told me,” he said. “What can I do to help?”
As I pulled off the highway yesterday, I thought about when he was first diagnosed with cancer and when I first heard about it. I called and told him about a little-known gene-targeted cancer treatment known as Rexin-G, an alternative to the barbaric chemo-therapy, and hoped that, perhaps, that it might save his life. I thought about Geoff Ammer as I turned onto Las Virgenes Road. Geoff had died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2012, and it was a hard blow for all of us who knew him. I was still in shock from a death in my own family – Geoff had died only two months after my cousin was killed in the Aurora theater shooting, and I was struggling not only to cope but also to help the other families of those killed and horribly injured in Aurora. Ammer and Sherak, as everyone who knew them knows, were like family — sometimes like brothers, sometimes like a father/son relationship. Tom, who was very loyal to those he loved, had different families: his Fox family, his Academy family, etc., and his blood family. Geoff and Karen (and so many others) were part of his Fox family.
As I drove to his home yesterday, I said a little prayer to Ammer and Sortito. I told them that they better watch out for Tom. In my mind’s eye, I could hear Geoff’s giggle and Sortito’s distinctive laugh, as if to say, “We can’t wait to see him again.”
Then, I thought about the last time I spoke to Sherak. We’d had an intense conversation about everything. We had a lot to catch up on. I talked about Aurora; we talked about how violence impacts young minds. We spoke about illness and trauma and how it changes you. We agreed that we are here to help each other and the greater good. We spoke about death, and I shared my own near-death experience with him in hopes that it would help him in his own journey. We spoke about the strength of family. And that love lives beyond death. And then he did something so simple, so kind, but so meaningful: He enthusiastically welcomed me back to the fold. It was very sincere. In an act of true loyalty, he promised to help me in any way he could. And when Tom promised something, he meant it. His word was good. Period. And then I realized something; after all these years, he’d not only forgiven but also, finally, had forgotten.
When I recently wrote a story about Tom being the consigliere in this town, I did it tongue in cheek, but the truth is, for many people, he was just that. You can see it from the outpouring from the town and those who came to surround his family in love yesterday. Tom cared about two things: Family and loyalty. If you were in, you were in. And with Tom, the man, the father, the friend, we are reminded of the beautiful thought: “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.”
As I parked the car in front of his house, I swallowed hard. Then I thought about one of the last things he ever said to me; it was about what really mattered in life. It was just three simple words: “It’s about love.”
Condolences to all who loved him.