Jeff Hunter, the veteran agent at William Morris Endeavor and its predecessors who discovered and then represented actor Morgan Freeman for more than four decades, has died. He was 91.
Hunter died Saturday at his home in New York City, close friend and casting director Bonnie Timmermann announced.
Hunter’s clients through the years included Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift, Mary Martin, Gloria Stuart, Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand, Harvey Keitel, Whoopi Goldberg, F. Murray Abraham, Jim Dale, Nathan Lane, Raul Esparza, Celia Weston, Frances Sternhagen, Patti LuPone, Robert Sean Leonard, Christine Lahti, Linda Hunt, Adina Porter, Donna Murphy and Rebecca Luker.
A lifelong New Yorker, Hunter discovered many other young actors, among them Kevin Kline, Raul Julia and Mandy Patinkin.
Hunter signed Freeman when he was a struggling newcomer on the New York stage and before he began moonlighting on the 1970s PBS kids show The Electric Company. He remained his agent for more than 40 years in one of the longest-running actor-agent relationships in the movie business until Freeman left for CAA in 2007.
Described as “an iconoclast with terrific taste,” Hunter helped break ground when he pushed to have Freeman play the U.S. president in Deep Impact (1998). He also suggested that Goldberg would serve as an ideal replacement for Lane after he departed the Broadway hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1997.
Born Sept. 5, 1926, in Queens, N.Y., as the only child of parents Samuel and Estelle, Hunter graduated from New York University at age 16 and enrolled in medical school. After a year, he abandoned his plan to become a doctor and took a job as a copy editor.
Later, while working at a talent agency, Hunter gathered up a few dissatisfied actors, including Mutiny on the Bounty star Franchot Tone, and left to start his own eponymous firm.
He became a founding partner of Triad Artists, which in 1992 was acquired by the William Morris Agency. Hunter eventually became senior vp motion picture talent at WME.
“He was an incredible human being,” Hunter’s former assistant and current WME agent Brian DePersia said in a statement. “I’ve never known someone in this business with so much integrity and honesty. He was stubborn in the greatest of ways, never afraid to give someone his opinion.”
Added Timmermann: “I went with Jeff to many openings on Broadway, at the Public Theatre and the Roundabout, which he supported. He read every script and responded openly and quickly to producers and casting directors. He gave everything to his clients and fought fiercely for each of them. That was his life.”
Hunter lived for decades in the West Village before moving into a condominium tower in midtown. He is survived by a cousin, Martin Hirsch.