Remembering Brad Grey

Paramount head and talent manager singer was 59

Yankee Stadium in October 2001, with Bo Wagner, Howard Koeppel, Roy Bailey, Jim Simpson, Carol Carbonetti, Rudy Giuliani, Frank Luntz, Bob Harding, Jon Liebman, Brad Grey, Manny Papir and Tony Carbonetti. (Photo: Ken Kurson for Book and Film Globe)

I want to express my shock and sorrow over the sudden passing of Brad Grey. He was better known as a Hollywood guy to the many who loved him and relied on him, but before he was the head of Paramount, he was the kind of talent manager who would take a bullet for a client.

One of those clients was Rudy Giuliani. Rudy’s former AUSA in the Southern District of New York was Jon Liebman. Jon brought Rudy into Brillstein Grey and Jon and Brad did Rudy’s book deal with what was then known as Talk-Miramax. I won’t go into the messy details here but I can tell you that dealing with Tina Brown and Harvey Weinstein was an assignment that required maximum finesse. And Brad had that in spades.

I have never publicly told the story of how I was hired to co-write Leadership, and it’s inappropriate to do so here in an obit. But I will say that Brad and Jon signing off on Rudy’s choice of me as co-writer, despite many better known and older and more accomplished writers hungering for the gig, was a life-changing event for me. Brad and Jon got us a great deal—note that this was before Sept 11 had restored Rudy to the place in the American imagination he earned for his courage and leadership during that crisis—but they also invested in us personally and in the project.

After the book hit No. 1, Brad called me to congratulate me and to tell me that Rudy hired me to do a job but had grown to see me as a partner. That meant a ton to me.

Brillstein Grey had (still has!) major stars in their universe, including Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston at the height of that romance, but both Grey or Liebman would always come to the phone when I wanted to know why there were so few books available in Houston when the mayor suddenly decided to visit eight bookstores, or when I’d share our evidence that the Times list was undercounting Costco type stores.

Even before I knew him, Brad was a legend to me from his name appearing as producer on every episode of The Larry Sanders Show. That engagement didn’t end cleanly for Brad, with Bob Odenkirk’s Stevie Grant character memorably skewering him on the show itself. Lawsuits and even private eyes and accusations of secret wiretaps were to follow. But if Brad had done nothing but produce either Larry Sanders or The Sopranos, two of the five greatest television shows in history, he could have called it a good career.

Instead, he went on to lead Paramount for a dozen years, giving us gems like MI3 and True Grit and a ton of others. Plenty of bombs, too, obviously, but that’s the business.

The last time I saw Brad was at a fancy party. He invited me to a special small-room screening of World War Z at MOMA. Because Brad Pitt himself was coming, I invited my sister in law to join and be scared by zombies. There was a fancy after-party and I didn’t feature doing that thing of going up to the studio head and saying “hey, remember me…” Instead, Brad Grey came up to me and totally remembered me and even knew that I’d gone on to become the editor in chief of the New York Observer, which shocked me, given his stature in the entertainment world. We laughed about old times and I told him I’d send him the photo above.

I think I forgot to do that or didn’t know how. I took this photo in October 2001, a month after the worst thing that ever happened to America, just a couple miles away. That’s Brad with his hands clasped next to Tony Carbonetti, who was Rudy’s Chief of Staff and Jon Liebman is right behind Brad, next to the Mayor.

Brad Grey, dead from cancer at 59.

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of Sea of Reeds Media. He is the former editor in chief of the New York Observer and also founded Green Magazine and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

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