Buddy Morra, the former talent manager who at one time handled comedians as Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Robert Klein, JoAnn Worley, David Letterman, Martin Mull, Jim Carrey, Marty Short, Dana Carvey, Paula Poundstone, Dick Cavett, Woody Allen, Tom Poston, John Pizzarelli, Michael Feinsten, Michael Richards, and Jake Johannsen (among others) has died. He passed on March 19 after a long illness. He was 88.
“Buddy was the most important person in my career. He believed in me even before I did,” Billy Crystal told Deadline. “In 1974, I was with a struggling three-man comedy group, and he took me aside and said if I wanted to be a stand up that, he’d be there for me along with the highly respected Jack Rollins, Charlie Joffe and Larry Brezner. He gave me the confidence to go it alone. A humble, gentle, humorous man, we had great highs together, and a few setbacks, but he never wavered in his commitment or his affection and respect for me. I really loved him and I’m eternally grateful for all the years we had together.”
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Morra’s varied career included helping create Comic Relief, the non-profit which collected donations to help those in need and whose most prominent spokespeople were Robin Williams, Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg and producing movies and records (one of which, the soundtrack to Good Morning Vietnam went platinum). He even served as a judge for the Miss America pageant.
Morra was born in the Bronx in 1930 to Polish immigrants Clara and Willie Morra. His father owned a push cart/fruit stand and ultimately a small luncheonette, and it was from those humble beginnings that Buddy Morra eventually entered the upper echelon of the entertainment industry.
After serving in special services in the Korean War, Morra began his entertainment career as a singer in New York and the straight man in a short-lived comedy act. He quickly realized that he was far from a standout when it came to entertaining, and instead found his calling as a talent manager.
On a stroke of good fortune he met comedy-industry giants, Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe, and later became a named partner to one of the most prestigious management firms in the country where he worked for many years. He preferred discovering new talent, helping them launch their careers and their own unique point of view. He gave anyone a shot, and even talent he wasn’t personally managing knew that they could come to him for advice and counsel, which he offered generously.
“Buddy was a real pioneer with incredible judgment, eye for quality talent and taste and a real friend,” former partner David Steinberg told Deadline. Steinberg had worked with Morra for about almost three decades. “Show business will always miss and remember him. He was an unbelievably steady hand when it came to decisions of any kind, with truly incredible taste. I don’t really remember a quality mistake with regards to talent that Buddy ever made. I really don’t. Buddy knew good and he knew great.”
His family said that Morra never brandished material things, and instead valued family, friends — and talking about food — above all else. He was a lifelong lover of jazz and a fan of the Boston Celtics. Despite being surrounded by some of the most famous people in the world, he still acted like a kid, they said, when he finally got to meet his hero Larry Bird.
They said: “Above all, he was known for being a true, generous, and authentic gentleman, and always available to his clients, friends and family. He touched and changed the lives of many and will be missed by all who were privileged to know him.”
He is survived by his wife, Carol, and his children Adam, Paris and Ali, grandchildren Theo Bauman and Skye and Remy Pearlman and his brother Herman. His brothers Bill and David “Lucky” Morra preceded him in death.
A private memorial service is being planned.
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