Press agent to H'wood A-list

Firm he founded with partner Rogers pioneered the Oscar campaign

Warren Cowan, one of Hollywood's most influential press agents who represented a who's who of A-list stars during a seven-decade career, has died. He was 87.

Cowan died Wednesday night of heart failure and complications from cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The New York native began working as a publicist while still at student at UCLA. One of his first clients was actress Linda Darnell.

In 1950, he became a partner with Henry Rogers in the firm Rogers & Cowan, which grew to become the largest public relations agency in Los Angeles. In 1989, Rogers & Cowan led its competition by posting $9.5 million in billings, the Los Angeles Business Journal reported.

Agency clients included such stars as Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Elton John, Shirley MacLaine, Danny Kaye and Tony Curtis.

"Warren Cowan has been part of my life since I was a very young actress," Woodward said. "I can't imagine life without him."

Eva Marie Saint noted she and her husband Jeffrey Hayden "had the privilege of knowing and working with Warren for many years." She dubbed him "a prince of a man and the best in his profession."

James Caan said Cowan formed his "first image of an independent publicist" and said he would miss him greatly.

Added Hugh Hefner, "He knew everyone of any importance in this town and represented most of them."

Whenever he was asked to name his favorite client, the politic Cowan would reply, "The next one."

Among his achievements, he masterminded the modern-day Oscar campaign by helping Joan Crawford win an Academy Award for "Mildred Pierce," got Paul McCartney into the Guinness Book of World Records as "the most prolific composer of all time" and represented Ronald Reagan when the future president was an actor and the host of "General Electric Theater."

In 1988, Rogers & Cowan was sold to British conglomerate Shandwick; six years later Cowan set up a new company, Warren Cowan & Associates. Even though many of the stars whose careers he guided had faded from the scene, he continued to introduce new personalities to Hollywood, including Italian actor Roberto Benigni, whom Cowan assisted in his successful quest for a best actor Oscar for 1997's "Life Is Beautiful."

Cowan is survived by his wife, Barbara Gilbert-Cowan, the mother of actors Melissa Gilbert, Sara Gilbert and Jonathan Gilbert; two daughters from previous marriages, Fox News Channel reporter Claudia Cowan (with actress Barbara Rush) and Bonnie Fleming. There are eight grandchildren.

Sara Gilbert lauded Cowan's "rare combination of keen mind and warm heart." A funeral will be held Sunday afternoon at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Hollywood.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.