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Larry Sherman, actor, journalist and Trump's first publicist, dies at 94

Larry Sherman, a journalist by training who played small roles in big movies and served as Donald Trump’s first publicist when Trump owned a start-up professional football team in New Jersey, has died.

Sherman died of natural causes Saturday in New York, his son Charles Sherman said. He was 94.

As an actor, Sherman had a knack for landing bit roles — sometimes uncredited and often with few if any spoken lines — in both memorable and critically acclaimed films.

He was the homeless man in “Midnight Cowboy” who collapsed and died outside Tiffany’s at the feet of Joe Buck, the aspiring gigolo portrayed by Jon Voight. He was Cary Grant’s cab driver in “North by Northwest”. He was a reporter to Humphrey Bogart’s hard-driving editor in the crime noir classic “Deadline — U.S.A.”

Sherman appeared in “When Harry Met Sally,” “Manhattan,” “The Hustler,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Reversal of Fortune,” “Scenes from a Mall” and more. He was a lounge singer on “The Sopranos,” a stuntman on “Butterfield 8” and — for more than 20 years — the face and voice of Judge Colin Fraser on “Law & Order,” his lines generally consisting of “guilty” or “not guilty.”

His last role was in “The Comedian,” a 2016 comedy-drama starring Robert De Niro and Danny DeVito.

Though he was sometimes cast as a reporter on film, Sherman actually was a working journalist away from the set.

He earned degrees in journalism and theater from the University of North Carolina and worked as a part-time reporter for Newsday and the New York Herald Tribune, and later as the sports editor at the Long Island Press. Among his assignments was covering the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

When the newspaper folded, Sherman moved to Los Angeles and worked as the head writer on “The Joker’s Wild,” the 1970s-era television quiz show.

Out of work by 1982 and in financial trouble, Sherman headed back East and was tipped off by the New York Times about a job as the public relations chief at the New Jersey Generals, a team, then owned by Trump, in the start-up U.S. Football League.

Sherman had no actual experience in PR, but Trump hired him “on the spot,” Sherman’s son said.

Though the newly arrived PR chief leaned to the left politically and Trump tilted in the other direction, Sherman found the future president to be a kind, generous and loyal boss.

“We would have absolutely lost our house if Trump hadn’t given my father that opportunity,” said Sherman’s son, who owns an L.A.-based public relations firm. “He was spectacular to my father.”

But Sherman held up his end of the deal too, getting Trump on “60 Minutes” and the cover of Sports Illustrated and drawing plenty of media attention, for which Trump proved to have an insatiable appetite.

Trump had purchased the team, which had a stable of high-caliber football players, with the vague hope that the league — which played during the summer months — would someday merge with the NFL. Instead, it folded.

Sherman’s son said he ran into Trump several times at Vanity Fair parties and once at a political debate in San Clemente.

“I’d go up to him, and he’d remember my dad. He’d say, “Your dad was the best PR guy I ever had,’ ” Charles Sherman said. “As much as Trump goes on about himself these days, that’s the way he talked about my father back then.”

Larry Sherman is survived by his wife, Marion; two children, Charles and Flory; and two grandchildren, Jonathan and Brett.

steve.marble@latimes.com

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