Entertainment lawyer Irwin Russell dies at 87; represented Eisner, Henson

Longtime entertainment lawyer Irwin Russell, whose clients included Michael Eisner and Jim Henson, died Aug. 23 of complications from leukemia. He was 87.

Russell, a New York native, is best known for working to get Eisner installed as chief executive of the Walt Disney Co. in 1984. The attorney also served on the entertainment company’s board of directors.

“Irwin Russell was a brilliant lawyer, an insightful executive, an eloquent writer and, in all things, a true gentleman,” Eisner, who headed Disney until 2005, said in a statement. Russell represented the executive for 40 years.

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“He was able to write -- and get all parties to agree to -- a one-page deal, something unheard of in American business. Ethics, doing it right and being fair were embedded in his DNA. This is a deep loss for all of us,” Eisner said.

Russell received an undergraduate degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1947, and graduated from Harvard Law School two years later. He served as an attorney for the National Wage Stabilization Board in the early 1950s.

The attorney moved to Los Angeles in 1971, when he became executive vice president of the Wolper Organization Inc., the company of film and television producer David Wolper.

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Other Russell clients included Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), “The Music Man” actor Robert Preston and Christina Crawford, the daughter of actress Joan Crawford.

In representing Henson, Russell stuck the deal that brought the puppeteer’s Muppets characters to “Sesame Street.”

“He was a good friend and I’m happy that we were able to keep in touch all these years,” actress Carol Burnett said in a statement. “I’ll miss him and our frequent conversations. He was a gentleman through and through.”

Russell is survived by his wife, Suzanne.


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