Agent Ed Limato dies

Clients included Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson, Diana Ross

Hollywood talent agent Ed Limato, a powerful industry player for more than three decades, has died. He was 73.

Limato died July 3 of lung disease at his Beverly Hills home. He had been hospitalized repeatedly at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in recent months for undisclosed medical reasons.

Most recently with WME, Limato has repped some of the highest-profile actors in the business, including Richard Gere, Denzel Washington, Steve Martin and the frequently embattled Mel Gibson.

"Ed was my dear friend and agent for 40 years," Gere said. "He was the best of the best. There will never be anyone like him. The mold has been broken. He was probably the most respected agent of our time, who loved his clients dearly and would do anything for them. "

Although Limato spent much of his career at ICM, he left that agency in summer 2007 during a restructuring shake-up to rejoin WMA, where he had worked from 1978-88.

When that company merged with Endeavor last year, he stayed on and made the transition to the new WME.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague Ed Limato," WME said. "He was the consummate agent, launching the careers of some of the most celebrated artists of our time, always with his signature style and class. His passion for this business was contagious, inspiring so many who had the privilege of knowing him. A true legend, Ed has left an indelible mark on our industry. We will miss him dearly."

An iconoclast, as Vanity Fair once described him, Limato hearkened back to a Golden Age of glamour, yet despite his reverence for the Hollywood of yore, his client list kept him active and relevant into the 21st century. Always handsomely turned out, Limato would promenade into the office wearing Italian suits of mustard yellow or salmon pink, rallying his assistants with a peremptory but never cynical, "Let's talk to the stars."

His affinity for old Hollywood was not just apparent in his attire and his attitude: His Coldwater Canyon estate, known as Heather House, was built in 1936 by Hollywood stars Dick Powell and Joan Blondell and later owned by George Raft. The game room was adorned with Hirschfeld caricatures acquired from the old MGM commissary and his screening room was named after Marlene Dietrich. He even gave his assistants a list of classic Hollywood films that they were to watch and analyze in their reports back to him.

Edward Frank Limato was born July 10, 1936, in Mount Vernon, N.Y., into a middle-class Italian American family. His love of show business took him around the world, from working as a disc jockey in Panama City, Fla. and Alexandria, La., to assisting director Franco Zeffirelli on the set of "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967) in Rome. With the help of Zeffirelli's agent, Limato returned to New York and took a job in the mailroom at the Ashley-Famous Agency, which eventually became the International Famous Agency -- where he was promoted to junior agent.

In 1975, Ashley-Famous merged with Creative Management Associates to become International Creative Management. He transferred to ICM's West Coast office but was lured away to the William Morris Agency in 1978 by Stan Kamen. He remained there until 1988, when he returned to the agency that gave him his start.

During his years at ICM, he ran his operations as a mini-fiefdom within the agency; during one period, he fielded three assistants whom he, for efficiency's sake, referred to as No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3. They apparently didn't mind; many of his staffers went on to become agents in their own right.

Limato has repped such high-wattage stars as Billy Crystal, Claire Danes, Diana Ross, Jennifer Lopez, Michelle Pfeiffer, Goldie Hawn, Robert Downey Jr., Sharon Stone, Liam Neeson, Winona Ryder and Thomas Jane.

A voracious reader, Limato believed that good material was the key to stardom, and he had a knack for steering stars toward material that suited them. He suggested Pfeiffer for the role in "Scarface," a move that launched her career; he begged Gere to take on "Pretty Woman" even though the actor expressed trepidation.

Limato's clout as an agent was enhanced by his annual Oscar party, a relaxed but star-studded event that was held for many years at his home the Friday before the Academy Awards. Invitations were reserved for the elite of politics, film, television, music and literature. Nonetheless, Limato often presided over the soiree in his bare feet.

In the aftermath of ICM's acquisition of the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency in July 2006, Limato's future at the company became shaky. He left his perch as vice chairman and co-president a year later, winning an arbitration the following month to take his A-list roster with him to WMA.

In 2008, Limato was awarded the Ischia Art Legend career achievement prize at the sixth Global Film and Music Fest in Italy. He also served on the boards of Abercrombie & Fitch, the Los Angeles Conservancy, the American Cinematheque and the Motion Picture Television Fund.

Limato is survived by his mother, Angelina; a brother, Paul; a sister, Angela; and several nieces and nephews.

Funeral services are private, and there will be a memorial service scheduled in Los Angeles at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

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