Jay Bernstein, the flamboyant Hollywood personal manager best known as the “star maker” who launched Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers to fame in the 1970s, has died. He was 68.
Bernstein, a former Hollywood publicist, died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after suffering a stroke, publicist Warren Cowan said. Fawcett, Bernstein’s longtime friend and client, was at his bedside.
“There are no words to express how sad and devastated I am,” Fawcett said in a statement. “I have lost one of my dearest friends and the industry has lost a giant.”
Rolling Stone magazine once said that Bernstein “is famous for making people famous.”
As a publicist in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, his many clients included Sammy Davis Jr., Sally Field, William Holden and Burt Lancaster.
Moving into personal management in 1975, he took on Fawcett and helped turn her into a national phenomenon as one of the original stars of the television series “Charlie’s Angels” and the smiling subject of a famous swimsuit poster.
Bernstein, who reportedly once paid women to throw hotel room keys at singer Tom Jones, never lost his flair for publicity as a personal manager.
In 1985, “Entertainment Tonight” anchor Mary Hart made headlines when she had her legs insured with Lloyd’s of London for $1 million each.
“Jay was instinctively creative in the PR business,” Hart told The Times. “Insuring my legs was Jay’s idea, and people still ask me about it to this day.”
As Somers’ personal manager, Bernstein once rounded up the press in the winter to see Somers at the Central Park skating rink clad in high heels, a mink and a bikini.
Somers told The Times on Tuesday that she had no personal management when the TV series “Three’s Company” began in 1977.
“I was watching what Jay Bernstein did with Farrah Fawcett,” Somers said. “I went to Jay and said, ‘I’ll make a deal with you.’ ”
The deal, she said, was that she would give him all the money she was making during the initial run of “Three’s Company” as a six-week replacement series in exchange for him making her “visible enough” that if the series didn’t make it she could get another job.
“So I invested in him as a manager, and it was a good investment,” Somers said.
The first year after Bernstein took over, Somers said, she was featured on 55 national magazine covers -- and became a household name.
“He told me later he didn’t think I was particularly good-looking and didn’t know if I was talented, but he said he hadn’t seen that kind of passion since Sammy Davis Jr., and that’s why he took the deal.
“Jay was a dealmaker, and Jay loved a deal,” Somers said.
Bernstein also carved out a niche as a producer. Among his credits as an executive producer are the TV series “Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” “Houston Knights"and the various Mike Hammer series and TV movies starring Stacy Keach as the hard-boiled private eye -- as well as the movies “Sunburn,” starring Fawcett, and “Nothing Personal,” starring Somers.
Bernstein was as colorful as many of the stars he managed.
He was known for carrying jeweled walking sticks -- he had hundreds of canes -- and for wearing a loaded handgun.
He also was a big-game hunter and a scuba diver who married model Cabrina Finn underwater in 1993 for a segment of TV’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” They were divorced two years later.
“He was a man’s man,” said Edward Lozzi, a publicity consultant to Bernstein on “Public Defender,” a TV series that Bernstein was developing at the time of his death.
“He loved women, and he never went anywhere unless there was a beautiful girl hanging off his arm,” Lozzi said. “He was probably one of the most well-dressed guys I’ve ever known” and often wore socks that matched the lining of his custom-tailored suits.
But the canes and the other flamboyant parts of his life were only one aspect of Bernstein, said former agent Bob Cambridge, a friend.
“The real aspect of Jay Bernstein was he was one of the people in Hollywood that was equal to the studios,” Cambridge said. “When he walked into a room, the studios treated him with utmost respect and fear because they knew they had to negotiate with the guy.”
Bernstein was born June 7, 1937, in Oklahoma City. Growing up, he lived vicariously through such screen heroes as Alan Ladd, Tyrone Power and Clark Gable, whose Beverly Hills home he later owned.
After heading to Southern California and graduating from Pomona College, he got a job in the mail room at the William Morris talent agency and then worked for several years at Rogers & Cowan public relations. He formed his own PR company in 1962.
Bernstein is survived by his daughter, Amber; his sister, Jane Rizen; and his mother, Natalie Bernstein.