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This story first appeared in the Aug. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Decades before they united for The Expendables series, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis (who sat Expendables 3 out) threw their ’80s-action-star weight behind a different kind of franchise.
Planet Hollywood was the brainchild of Keith Barish, producer of films like Sophie’s Choice and The Fugitive, who envisioned a Hard Rock Cafe for the movies. Knowing nothing about the restaurant business, he approached then-Hard Rock owner Robert Earl to partner on the venture. It was Earl who dreamed up a board of movie superstars who’d receive part-ownership in exchange for appearing at premiere-style openings. First approached was Schwarzenegger, star of Barish’s 1987 hit, The Running Man.
“I remember going to him on the set of Terminator 2,” says Barish, 69. “He said, ‘Count me in.’ ” Willis, heavily invested in his recording career at the time, agreed to sign on after being pitched a position as the chain’s music director. Stallone rounded out the trio, having contacted Parish himself through a mutual friend to say he was eager to come aboard.
When 10,000 fans packed 57th Street for the grand opening of the New York restaurant in October 1991, it became clear there was magic in this recipe of major stars, movie memorabilia and Cap’n Crunch-coated chicken strips. The company went public in 1996, at which point Barish says it was briefly worth $2.5 billion. But as the chain ballooned to more than 100 locations — and one failed attempt at erecting a Las Vegas casino in 1998 — stock prices plummeted and two rounds of bankruptcy filings followed.
The company now is owned exclusively by Earl, who has whittled it to eight locations, including the 2,500-room Planet Hollywood Las Vegas Resort & Casino, now home to Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me” residency. Boasts the 63-year-old Earl, who sold the hotel to Caesars in 2010 and collects a license fee for use of the Planet Hollywood brand, “[The Vegas property] makes more profit than the whole restaurant group during its heyday.”
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