Jerry Weintraub, the legendary producer who worked with everyone from Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to Led Zeppelin and George Clooney and produced films ranging from Oh, God! and the Karate Kid to the Ocean’s Eleven reboot franchise, died this morning of cardiac arrest in a Santa Barbara hospital. He was 77. Weintraub, a great friend of President George H.W. Bush, also was an executive producer on HBO’s new comedy The Brink.
Weintraub was the considered the ultimate showman and a guy who seemed to know and had worked with literally everyone. And over decades. From Mike Todd to The Moody Blues, from Arthur Godfrey to Clooney. And he had fun. A great storyteller, Weintraub often would relay one tale after another, mining a lifetime of great experiences with some of the biggest names in music, television and film — whether it be talking about his days with Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker or Sinatra to his various deals on movies and how they came to be.
Not surprisingly, in 2009, Weintraub would publish a memoir of many of these stories titled, When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories From A Persuasive Man. He also was known for some great one-line quips like, “The man who does the favors is never far away from the man who has the favors done for him.”
“It’s such a sad day. I loved him,” said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros’ head of distribution who had known Weintraub for decades and was one of his best friends. “It’s a sad day for his family, who I love dearly. It breaks my heart. He’s one of my closest friends, and it was so sudden. Jerry was certainly one of a kind. An original. He lived such a full life and loved every day of it. He was a great friend in business and outside as well. He was the best storyteller I ever met and had such passion for our business. I think that’s what made us very close. And at this stage of his life, when most people are thinking of slowing down, he was picking up the pace.” Fellman noted both his work for the studio and for HBO.
“In the coming days there will be tributes, about our friend Jerry Weintraub,” Clooney said today. “We’ll laugh at his great stories, and applaud his accomplishments. And in the years to come the stories and accomplishments will get better with age, just as Jerry would have wanted it. But not today. Today our friend died. To his family and friends, Amal and I send our love. And to those who didn’t know him, we send our deepest sympathy. You would have loved him.”
Weintraub’s colorful life was the subject of His Way, a 2011 HBO documentary by Doug McGrath in which a number of actors and executives who had worked with him were all asked the same questions. The docu contributors read like a who’s who in Hollywood, with everyone from the great Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould and Joan Collins to ex-Warner Bros chairmen Bob Daly and Terry Semel talking about their pal. Weintraub held an office on the Warner Bros lots for years.
“Jerry was a great guy. He was one of a kind,” Daly told Deadline. “There are not many left like him. I met him when he was an agent at William Morris before he met (his wife) Jane (Morgan). He had a long career over so many years and continued to work up until the day he died. He was a very special guy. It was shocking to hear. He will certainly be remembered.”
The hard-charging agent-turned-producer was born Jerome Charles Weintraub on September 26, 1937, in Brooklyn to parents Samuel, a jeweler, and Rose, a homemaker. He grew up in the Bronx, next door to the family of Daly’s future wife Carole Bayer Sager.
His desire to be in entertainment began when he was just a kid. As a teenager, he had stints as an usher in a theater and waiter at a Catskills resort. Weintraub began his showbiz career in earnest as a talent agent in New York City and then at the venerable William Morris in L.A. Recalled manager George Shapiro: “I was in the William Morris office with Jerry when he was a schelper in the mailroom, and before you knew it, he booked himself a high-level assistant job at MCA (the old talent agency) and then became an agent almost immediately.”
It wasn’t long before he then networked himself into a job in the TV department at MCA. It’s there that he would come to know MCA’s legendary Lew Wasserman and think of him as kind of a father figure when he was trained as his assistant. Not long after that, Weintraub started out on his own in a management company with the late Bernie Brillstein and Marty Kummer.
He eventually wound up a concert promoter and helped the Colonel with Elvis and promoted Sinatra back into the swing of things, even producing the latter’s TV docu concert film The Main Event, which was billed as the “first around the world by satellite” concert. Weintraub was, at his core, an entrepreneur and a deal maker.
“He was a force of nature,” Carl Reiner told Deadline, adding that he’s thankful to Weintraub for putting him into all the Ocean’s films. “Because of that, a younger audience got to know me and a new generation beyond The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Reiner recounted one of Weintraub’s famous stories for Deadline: “He told me one story once that epitomizes who he was — when he was nowhere and Elvis was making it. He called Elvis and said, ‘I’m going to get you a million dollars to play at Madison Square Garden if I have your permission to do so. And he went out and got Elvis the job. The money was given to him, I understand, by Danny Kaye, who put up the million and got him the gig. He got that for Elvis. He had nothing in his pocket when he made that offer and that really informed his life. He said he was going to do it and he did it.”
Weintraub went on to work with some of the biggest names in the 1970s music scene, including Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, the Carpenters and John Denver — whom he managed a long while before their relationship broke down. It was kismet that he next would segue into the film business, which came at the suggestion of the late Robert Altman. He bought into the idea after Altman tossed a script his way and told him to use other people’s money to get it done. Ever the dealmaker, Weintraub of course got the money and became an executive producer on Altman’s iconic 1975 pic Nashville.
He would go on to produce a number of TV specials with his longtime client Denver, the Carpenters and others including Neil Diamond before really hitting it hard in film with multiple Karate Kid movies. One of the earlier breakout hits was Oh, God! the 1977 comedy starring George Burns. In the 1980s, he formed the Weintraub Entertainment Group with a consortium of investors that included Cineplex Odeon, Columbia Pictures and other financing to and started producing film and television.
After producing numerous high-profile television specials and Broadway shows, Weintraub was named Chairman and CEO of United Artists in the mid-’80s, but that lasted only a few months when he bumped heads with then-owner Kirk Kerkorian. He left UA and formed Weintraub Entertainment Group, which went belly up in a bankruptcy. But that didn’t keep the producer down. He just kept swinging and eventually moved to Warner Bros, where he started producing again under Jerry Weintraub Productions.
He later would go on to put together a documentary for his friend President Bush, entitled, simply 41. And in the early 1990s, the commander in chief appointed Weintraub to the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
He also produced the Emmy-winning 2013 HBO telefilm Behind The Candelabra, which starred Michael Douglas and Weintraub’s Ocean‘s buddy Matt Damon. The biopic about Liberace received 15 Emmy nominations and won 11, including Outstanding Mini Series or Movie. It also was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Mini-series or Movie for Television and earned Weintraub a 2014 PGA Award.
He also worked on HBO’s upcoming drama series Westworld and produced the 2014 documentary series Years Of Living Dangerously for Showtime about climate change, which won the Emmy for Outstanding Documentary.
But it was the Ocean’s Eleven film and its sequels for which this generation likely will remember Weintraub. Those films ended up grossing a mint for Warner Bros. His other film producing credits include the 1982 Barry Levinson film Diner, Sylvester Stallone’s The Specialist and the George Strait-Leslie Ann Warren pic Pure Country.
His last film that he was in production on was the upcoming Tarzan, which stars Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Sam Jackson and Christophe Waltz. “He was very good to me when I met him in my youth,” said Alan Riche, who was producing the film with him. Riche had known him for 40-plus years. “He had an amazing career and wanted to be respected and admired and was. He gave his all to the movies that he produced, including Tarzan. He was the consummate showman.”
He also appeared in several films including Ocean’s Eleven and sequels Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen, The Firm, Vegas Vacation and Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind.
In addition to his professional efforts, Weintraub was well known for his philanthropic endeavors whether it be helping on health concerns to education in the arts or a humanitarian campaign to end the genocide in Darfur. He and his wife founded the Jane & Jerry Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Bio-Technology at UCLA.
He was the recipient of several professional honors including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Kodak Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Filmmaking. He was named Producer of the Year at ShoWest 2007 and that same year became the first producer ever to be “cemented” in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Weintraub is survived by his wife, Jane Morgan Weintraub, whom he married in 1965, and his longtime companion Susan Ekins. He also leaves behind his brother, Melvyn; children Michael, Julie, Jamie and Jody; and grandchildren Sarah, Rachael, Joseph, Ari and Samuel. Michael’s wife Maria and Jody’s husband Hunter also survive him.
Funeral services will be private, with a memorial service to be announced.