Bernie Brillstein, a Hollywood talent agent, manager, producer and studio head who over half a century guided the careers of "Saturday Night Live" comedians and helped package a slew of TV and movie hits, has died. He was 77.
Brillstein died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Thursday night at a Los Angeles hospital, according to information provided Friday by Brillstein Entertainment Partners.
Starting in the mailroom of the William Morris talent agency in 1956, Brillstein moved up to become a Hollywood power broker famous for putting together TV and movie deals, often starring talent he represented and with himself as executive producer.
Brillstein helped guide the careers of John Belushi and Muppets creator Jim Henson. He also helped bring "Saturday Night Live" and "The Sopranos" to television.
He founded the influential management and production company Brillstein-Grey Entertainment with partner Brad Grey in 1991.
Among the successful shows he helped bring to TV were the long-running variety show "Hee Haw" and "Alf." He was executive producer on the hit movie "Ghostbusters."
Brash, sharp and rotundly rumpled, Brillstein exemplified the old-school stereotype of an agent rather than the slick, corporate "Jerry Maguire" operator.
In his 1999 memoir, "Where Did I Go Right? — You're No One in Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead," he recalled that early on at the William Morris Agency in New York he helped negotiate a Broadway musical deal for an actress — only to find out that she had been dead for four years.
"Now that's classic agenting," he recalled. "We got a dead person a $250-a-week raise. I knew I was in the right business."
Brillstein had a reputation of caring deeply for his clients. Being an agent, he told CNN in 1999, was much more than cutting deals for clients.
"You're a wife. You really are," he said. "You take care of everything and get them ready for the day."
"How do you take an actor or comedian or a writer and point them in the right direction and go through all that garbage unless you love it and love them and think they're talented and worth it?" he said. "It's an amazing experience."
Brillstein, who was married several times, is survived by his wife Carrie; sons Michael Brillstein, David Koskoff and Nick Koskoff; daughters Kate Brillstein and Leigh Brillstein; and a grandson, Alden.