AMPTP chief Nick Counter dies

Served as president for 27 years before retiring in March

Nick Counter remembered

Nick Counter, who retired on March 31 as president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, died on Friday at West Hills Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 69.

The Hollywood studios' lead labor negotiator for many years, Counter collapsed at his home on Tuesday and was taken to the hospital where he died. The cause of death was not immediately available.

Counter served as president of the AMPTP, the primary trade association for labor issues in the motion picture and TV industries, for 27 years, beginning with its formation in 1982. Before that, he served as outside counsel for its antecedent Association of Motion Picture & Television Producers for 10 years.

As AMPTP president, he led 80 industry-wide labor negotiations with entertainment industry guilds and unions on behalf of 350 motion picture and television producers, including the studios, broadcast networks, cablers and independent producers). In the process, he had a hand in negotiating some 300 major guild and union agreements.

Calling his death "a profound loss for the entire entertainment community," his successor as AMPTP president Carol Lombardini, said he "was always guided by a resolute sense of fair play and an earnest desire that everyone comes out a winner. Nick had a particular proficiency for developing consensus among diverse points of view and he used this skill to great advantage in negotiating collective bargaining agreements that led to a sustained era of labor peace."

Although Counter struck a tough stance at the bargaining table, guild leaders, despite the fact they often found themselves pitted against him, remembered him warmly.

"Although we sat on opposite sides during labor negotiations," DGA secretary-treasurer Gil Cates and national executive Jay Roth said in a joint statement, "Nick was a friend, man of honor and worthy adversary, doing his best to represent his constituents. We shared the same goal -- protecting our industry -- yet often held different ideas at times about how to accomplish this. But ultimately Nick would always listen, evaluate and try to understand where we were coming from and look for a way to find a deal that worked for both parties."

SAG president Ken Howard and national executive director David White echoed that sentiment, saying, "His long tenure as head of the AMPTP was typified by reason, compassion and flashes of wry humor. Nick was always able to balance the relentless pursuit of his bargaining objectives with an evident respect for actors and admiration for their unique contribution to the art and business of entertainment."

John Wells and Michael Winship, the respective presidents of the WGA West and WGA East, offered a word of sympathy to Counter's family.

Speaking as one of the studio heads who worked with Counter, Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Barry Meyer said, "He was a brilliant negotiator who guided this industry through historic change and never lost his desire to be fair to all involved. We will miss him very much."

"Nick was a true gentleman, who fought vigorously but always professionally for the interests of the motion picture and television companies in labor negotiations over many, many years," MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said. "He leaves a truly wonderful legacy for us all."

Born in Phoenix, Ariz., Counter was raised in Denver, Col. and graduated from the University of Colorado before earning a law degree from Stanford.

He served as a trustee on 14 of the guild and union health and pension funds and was also a trustee for the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

"Through his commendable service as a Trustee of both the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds and the AFTRA-Industry Cooperative Fund, Nick 'labored for labor,' seeking always to enrich AFTRA members' contributions to and success in the entertainment and media industries," AFTRA president Roberta Reardon and national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth said.

He also served on the board of directors of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, where he was a past president, and on the board of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, where he was a past chair.

Following his retirement, he had planned to serve as a consultant to the AMPTP on labor matters.

"Nick will be greatly missed as a husband, father and grandfather, and as a wonderful friend and colleague to so many both inside and outside the Hollywood community," his family said in a statement. "He will be remembered for his passion and integrity at the bargaining table and he considered his work with the industry health and pension plans to be his greatest achievement."

He is survived by his wife Jackie, daughter Samantha, son-in-law screenwriter Alex Kurtzman, son Nicholas and grandson Jack.

In lieu of flowers, the family requested that donations be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund or the Entertainment Industry Foundation.