Producer Jerry Weintraub Dies at 77

Jerry Weintraub
Austin Hargrave

A steely, hard-charging personality, he was wildly successful in a wide-ranging entertainment career that spanned more than 50 years.

Jerry Weintraub, who produced such hits as the Karate Kid and the Ocean's series, died Monday of cardiac arrest in Santa Barbara, his publicists said. He was 77.

A promoter and impresario in the old sense, Weintraub was a larger-than-life, Damon Runyon-esque character. A steely, hard-charging personality, he was wildly successful in a wide-ranging entertainment career that spanned more than 50 years.

Before his success as a motion picture producer, Weintraub was a force in the management and musical fields. He spent more than two decades promoting concerts and some of the top musical acts in the world: Elvis PresleyFrank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, the Beach Boys, the Pointer Sisters and John Denver, among them.

His foray into movies came after a Weintraub-produced Denver performance, where he met director Robert Altman, who sent him a prospective project: Nashville. The 1975 film went on to garner five Oscar nominations, including one for best picture.

In 1983, Weintraub signed a three-year, right-of-first refusal pact with Columbia Pictures. He also produced TV programs and a wide range of films, beginning with Nashville, which he executive produced. His films also included Diner; Oh, God!; September 30, 1955; Cruising; three sequels to The Karate Kid; and HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, winner of 11 Emmy Awards, including one trophy for him.

He recently executive produced the 2014 climate-change documentary Years of Living Dangerously for Showtime and the new comedy The Brink for HBO, and was a producer on the upcoming remake of Westworld that has been turned into an HBO series and the upcoming film version of Tarzan from Warner Bros. His life also was the focus of the 2011 HBO documentary His Way, directed by Douglas McGrath.

A colorful raconteur, he cracked The New York Times best-seller list with his 2010 memoir, When I Stop Talking You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories From a Persuasive Man.

At one juncture in 1985, Weintraub served for roughly five months as chairman and CEO of United Artists, but the studio was not big enough for him and owner Kirk Kerkorian. After being fired, he rebounded to form his own film and TV production company, Weintraub Entertainment Group.

At the time, WEG was the largest privately financed startup in motion picture-industry history. However, it folded ignominiously in 1990 after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In 1992, the company settled a lawsuit alleging its brokerage firm had misrepresented the amount of money pledged to it by Columbia.

He then founded Jerry Weintraub Prods., based at Warner Bros. His first film was Pure Country, starring country singer George Strait. He subsequently produced an array of feature films, including The Specialist, Vegas Vacation, 1998's The Avengers and Soldier.

The company produced such megahits as Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen. He produced the family film Nancy Drew and the reboot of The Karate Kid.

Weintraub always maintained a perspective as a “kid from the Bronx” and reveled in associating with celebrities, world leaders and industrialists, including George H. W. Bush, who was a neighbor and friend in Kennebunkport, Maine. Engagingly immodest, Weintraub had acquaintances and cronies across all demographic and cultural lines.

His business ventures were similarly eclectic. In addition to his entertainment industry endeavors, he held large real estate investments and such ventures as an Elvis Museum in Tokyo and a spa in Beverly Hills.

He dismissed deal-making, insisting he was a filmmaker. Hypothetically, he noted if he booked a suite at Cannes, “I'll sit there with a suitcase and people will come and throw money into it. That's not making moves; that's making deals. I want to make films.”

In 2001, he was honored with the Kodak Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Filmmaking. In June 2007, he became the first producer to be “cemented” in the courtyard of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. An arts patron, Weintraub was actively involved in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Music Center and the Children's Museum. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Jerome Charles Weintraub was born Sept. 26, 1937, in Brooklyn, to Samuel, a traveling gemstone salesman, and his wife Rose. The oldest of two sons, he was raised in the Bronx. As a teen, he sneaked into the palatial Loew's Paradise Theater so often that the manager gave him a job as an usher. Bored with high school, Weintraub joined the Air Force at 17. He was posted in Alaska, where he moonlighted “selling clothes to prostitutes and all kinds of stuff.”

After serving his country, Weintraub used the G.I. Bill to study at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. He then moved into show business as a page at NBC and in the mail room at William Morris. He became an agent with MCA in the mid-1950s. Restless and driven, Weintraub veered into personal management, hustling for clients on the club circuit. In 1959, he worked briefly as an advance man for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign.

In 1960, he founded Management III with two young managers, Bernie Brillstein and Marty Kummer. He called Colonel Tom Parker every day, badgering him to promote a Presley tour.  After a year, Parker relented. Weintraub's promotion was a huge success, and other artists flocked to his company. His client list swelled. Weintraub broke new promotional ground when he presented Frank Sinatra at Madison Square Garden in the “first around the world by satellite” concert, titled “The Main Event.”

In his multifaceted career, Weintraub produced a number of TV specials, many starring the musician and artists with whom he worked. He produced An Olympic Gala, the telecast of the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He was executive producer of John Denver's TV specials, including John Denver's Rocky Mountain Christmas, which received the highest ratings in ABC history at the time for a special with a single host.

Weintraub occasionally showed up onscreen, perhaps most auspiciously in The Firm, in which he convincingly played an intimidating Chicago “businessman.”

In 1988, Weintraub and his wife, Jane, were recipients of the Scopus Award from the American Friends of the Hebrew University. Their awards gala provided more than 400 scholarships for students at the Hebrew University, where a new facility was named after the couple: The Jane & Jerry Weintraub Building for Music and Fine Arts. The couple also founded the Jane & Jerry Weintraub Center For Reconstructive Bio-Technology at UCLA. He also was involved with the Variety Club Foundation, the American Parkinson Disease Foundation and the Muscular Dystrophy Physical Assn.

Weintraub was married to Janice Greenberg for roughly one year. They had a son, Michael. In 1965, Weintraub married former singer Jane Morgan and adopted three children: Julie, Jamie and Jody.

He is survived by his wife Jane and his longtime companion Susan Ekins; his four children, Michael, Julie, Jamie and Jodie, as well as five grandchildren, Sarah, Rachael, Joseph, Ari and Samuel. In addition, he leaves behind his brother Melvyn, Michael's wife Maria and Jodie's husband Hunter.

Funeral services will be private. A memorial service will be announced.

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