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Beverly Hills Restaurateur Jimmy Murphy Dies at 75

Jimmy Murphy Zsa Zsa Gabor - H 2014
Patricia Danaher
Murphy with Zsa Zsa Gabor at Jimmy's.

He ran the elegant, French-themed Jimmy’s for more than two decades, hosting the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Michael Ovitz, the Hopes and the Reagans.

Jimmy Murphy, the founder of Jimmy’s, the fashionable restaurant in Beverly Hills that served Hollywood's high society for more than two decades, died Saturday at his Benedict Canyon home after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 75.

Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Maureen O’Hara, Mitzi Gaynor, Bob and Dolores Hope, Paul Newman, Henry Kissinger, Burt Lancaster, Michael Ovitz, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, Cary Grant and Ronald & Nancy Reagan were among the regulars at Jimmy’s, which opened January 1978 on South Moreno Drive.

Jimmy’s was a French-themed restaurant that also sported a cocktail lounge and rooms for private parties. Murphy and his wife Anne were the hosts, living by the motto, "Elegance will never die."

Murphy sold Jimmy’s in 1998 and reopened a restaurant on the same site a year later. In 2003, he launched Jimmy’s Tavern nearby; that venture lasted a year.

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Most recently, he invested in a musical based on the life of Charlie Chaplin that opened on Broadway at the Barrymore Theater in September 2012.

Murphy was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, into a family of eight children. He left home at 14 to work at Dooley’s hotel in neighboring Waterford. Within a few years, he moved to London, where he began working and training at the Savoy hotel, where he met Chaplin and his wife Oona, the daughter of Irish-American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

Murphy met nurse Anne Power at a dance in Leicester Square in February 1963, and she persuaded him to join her in Los Angeles, which he did before the end of the year. He found work at the Bella Fontana restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire hotel and in 1963 moved to another celebrity hangout, The Bistro, which Kurt Niklas had just opened.

Murphy served 14 years as the maitre d’ at The Bistro until he was encouraged by Johnny Carson, Bob Newhart and Don Rickles to strike off on his own.

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True to his Irish heritage, Murphy hosted many emerging and established Irish stars at Jimmy’s. Producer Noel Pearson, director Jim Sheridan and actors Liam Neeson, Richard Harris, Roma Downey, Pierce Brosnan and Gabriel Byrne came to his restaurant, and the American Ireland Fund made Jimmy's its West Coast headquarters.

In 1985, Murphy started the St. Patrick's Day parade in Beverly Hills that he and his wife led for years.

"I've been connected to show business all my working life, catering to everyone from A-list actors to American presidents," Murphy said in an interview last year. "When I was a very young man in the Savoy in London, Chaplin would come in, and I had no idea his story would come to play a big part in my own life. It’s been fascinating and challenging, and I love the way it’s all unfolded."

In addition to his wife of 50 years, survivors include their children Geraldine, Sean and Jamie, son-in-law Chuck, and grandchildren Brandon and Charlotte.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made on behalf of Murphy to Sister Alice Marie Quinn, St. Vincent Meals on Wheels Foundation, 2200 W. Third Street, Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA 90057-1935.

A wake, vigil and rosary will be held at Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills at 7 p.m. Friday. A funeral mass will take place at Good Shepherd at 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by burial at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.   

Twitter: @mikebarnes4