Veteran Hollywood publicist Joe Sutton died of health complications on July 16 in hospice care at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, his son Michael announced on Friday. He was 83.
Sutton began his career in PR as an office boy at Rogers & Cowan before the firm made him a publicist. From there, be broke out on his own in 1962 with business partner Mickey Freeman, forming Freeman & Sutton Public Relations. Early clients included a long list of notable names such as Bill Cosby; The Doors; The Smothers Brothers; The Beach Boys; David Dortort and his famed NBC series Bonanza and the High Chaparral; Chuck Barris and his legendary Dating Game; James Caan; Tennessee Ernie Ford; Bob Denver of Gilligan’s Island; Allen Sherman; and Jill St. John.
In 1969, Sutton established his own personal management company at which he guided the careers of Neil Diamond, Ricky Nelson, Lou Rawls, O.C. Smith and David Axelrod. In 1972, he was hired by Lew Wasserman, Ned Tanen and Mike Maitland at MCA to the position of Executive Vice-President of their music division, and was COO of their Decca, Kapp, and Uni labels.
After a successful nine-year run in the music business, Sutton and Freeman reestablished their PR firm. In its second act, Freeman and Sutton Public Relations represented such clients as Drew Barrymore, Jerry Seinfeld, Burt Reynolds, Patty Duke, Martin Lawrence, Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks, The Oprah Winfrey Show and The American Film Institute.
Sutton later flexed his years of show business expertise as the host of “Talking With Joe,” which debuted on the Los Angeles public radio station KYPA in 1998. The show eventually moved to the CBS-owned KLSX with the new title “The Heart of Hollywood With Joe Sutton.”
Sutton released his book The Heart of Hollywood: From Hollywood to Hell and Back in 2003. Writing the book led him to the Motion Picture & Television Fund where he became passionate about recording and telling the stories of the industry veterans living at the organization’s retirement community in Woodland Hills. Broadcast for Channel 22, Behind the Silver Screen featured more than 250 of Sutton’s conversations with industry pioneers living at the home documenting many previously untold anecdotes.
Sutton — who moved from Brooklyn, New York to L.A. with his family in 1940 — is survived by sons Michael and Robby, partner Susan Shore, sisters Leona and Joyce and brother Victor.
Sutton’s son Michael remembered his father in a statement, saying he lived “always pouring love into the world and [was] never…without a smile on his face or a twinkle in his eye.”
Sutton’s family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in his memory to the Motion Picture & Television Fund and/or Channel 22.