Jerry Weintraub, 'Ocean's Eleven' producer, dies at 77

Story highlights

  • Jerry Weintraub was formidable Hollywood figure
  • Weintraub was leading concert promoter, later major movie producer

(CNN)Jerry Weintraub, the high-powered Hollywood mogul whose career included promoting Elvis Presley concerts, producing the "Ocean's" movies and spinning larger-than-life tales, has died, according to his publicist. He was 77.

Weintraub died in Santa Barbara of cardiac arrest, publicist Michelle Bega said.
Among the friends mourning his death was former President George H.W. Bush, a longtime Weintraub pal.
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    "Barbara and I mourn the passing of our close and wonderfully irrepressible friend, Jerry Weintraub," he tweeted, calling him an "American original."
    For more than five decades, the New York-born Weintraub was one of the entertainment industry's most entertaining figures, a self-described "Broadway Danny Rose"-style manager who backed his risks with a storytelling gift and a forceful personality.
    He described his career in the memoir "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead," written with Rich Cohen. The book was later turned into the HBO documentary "His Way."
    Weintraub's passion drove his success, whether it was making movies with George Clooney and Brad Pitt or scrambling to find gigs for artists in his younger days, he told CNN in 2010.
    "I had faith in them," he said of some of his early clients on the show business fringe. "I believed in my artists. Everything's that's Cirque du Soleil right now -- contortionists, jugglers, acrobats -- those were the people I was around."
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    But Weintraub soon talked his way into bigger game. He promoted concerts by Led Zeppelin. He managed John Denver at the peak of his 1970s fame. He worked with Frank Sinatra.
    Perhaps most importantly, he struck an agreement with Elvis Presley's manager, Col. Tom Parker, by -- in Weintraub's telling -- calling him incessantly for months until Parker cut a deal. The partnership netted Weintraub millions and made him one of the most successful concert promoters in the world.
    He described Presley as "very, very smart," but also attached to fame.
    "He was completely aware of the level of fame because that's what destroyed him. He was cloistered, he was locked up all the time, he couldn't go out to a restaurant unless we closed the restaurant, he couldn't go to a movie unless we closed the theater ... it's a very hard way to live. Listen: He gave up his freedom knowingly because he was such a huge star," Weintraub said.
    In the 1970s, Weintraub branched out into movie production. His first theatrical feature was 1975's "Nashville," directed by Robert Altman. He later produced "Oh, God!" (1977) -- which starred Denver -- "Diner" (1982) and "The Karate Kid" (1984).
    In the 2000s, he produced the three "Ocean's" films as well as the 2010 "Karate Kid" remake and the well-received 2013 HBO film "Behind the Candelabra."
    "In the coming days there will be tributes, about our friend Jerry Weintraub," "Ocean's" star George Clooney said in a statement. "We'll laugh at his great stories, and applaud his accomplishments. And in the years to come the stories and accomplishments will get better with age, just as Jerry would have wanted it. But not today. Today our friend died. To his family and friends, Amal and I send our love. And to those who didn't know him we send our deepest sympathy. You would have loved him."
    Not all of Weintraub's deals worked out.
    His relationship with Denver ended acrimoniously. After being hired to run the United Artists studio in the mid-'80s, he had a falling out with studio owner Kirk Kerkorian and was out of a job inside of a year.
    But he usually ended up on top and was rarely shy about telling stories about his famous friends and glamorous life. After all, he told CNN back in 2010, it was a very good life. Why wouldn't he celebrate it?
    "I have a hit book, I have a wonderful life and I'm doing a million things in the theatrical business. Why would I have any regrets?" he said. "I can't have any regrets. They'd have to give me a lobotomy."