Ed Limato had been ill from lung disease and awaiting a lung transplant that never came. He arrived home from Cedars Sinai this week and fell into a coma. In recent days the icon who’d spent four decades in showbiz guidng the careers of some of its biggest stars was surrounded by everyone he loved: his clients and his friends and his colleagues. The untimely passing of this legendary talent agent at age 73 will cast a pall over Hollywood this holiday weekend. But his reputation as one of the greats will live on.
Most recently, Limato was a senior agent at WME Entertainment but he’d spent a lifetime moving between ICM and William Morris agencies. He began his career in the mailroom of the Ashley-Famous Agency in New York in 1966. That tenpercentery eventually became International Famous Agency where Ed was promoted to junior agent. Later, Ashley-Famous merged with Creative Management Associates to become International Creative Management (ICM). He transferred to ICM’s West Coast office but was lured away to the William Morris Agency in 1978 by his idol Stan Kamen’s motion picture talent departmen for a 10-year stay and some of Limato’s most productive years. There he helped discover Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Costner, and Michael Biehn among so many other clients. By 1984, Limato seemed destined to be the town’s next superstar agent. But Limato found the Morris elders’ end-of-year bonus offer insulting and didn’t come into the office for a week. He met with ICM and agreed to return. When Kamen learned what happened, he demanded a new contract for Limato: $250,000 for 1984, $300,000 for 1985, $350,000 for 1986, and a new Jaguar. Limato stayed.
By 1988, Stan Kamen had died, an internal battle was raging to run his department, and it embroiled Limato in another contract dispute that even involved a lawsuit. This time, Ed did go back to ICM where he cemented his reputation as a superstar agent and took all his movie stars, now joined by Denzel Washington and Steve Martin and Billy Crystal and Liam Neeson, to the next level of superstardom. There he rose to become a major administrator of the agency. But after ICM merged with the TV agency Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann in 2006, Limato found himself in the summer of 2007 embroiled in a very bitter and very public contract renewal battle with newly installed ICM president Chris Silbermann.
At issue was whether Ed would remain part of ICM management and if so what he would get paid. One proposal on the table was for Limato to stay as an eminence gris and rep his clients as usual but relinquish his management role so ICM could effect generational change. On the money front, Limato was making $5 million in salary and bonuses with perks like another mil at least for his Oscar party, two script readers, three assistants, and own business affairs person. Plus, Ed insisted that all of his aides eventually be promoted to agent status. ICM wanted him to downsize, especially his annual Friday night pre-Oscar party which for years had been the ne-plus-ultra of Hollywood (where Limato became known as “The Barefoot Contessa’ because of his penchant for hosting shoeless despite his sartorial splendor) until Bryan Lourd’s and Ari Emanuel’s competing parties began to eclipse it. Limato claimed both his authority and stature were being undermined by the new regime, which, he alleged, planned on forcing him into early retirement. Limato wanted out of his contract. ICM refused.
The dispute was taken to arbitration, where Limato challenged a 3-year non-compete clause, which would have forbid him to work for another agency and forced him to remain at ICM as a consultant. During arbitration, Limato’s lawyers argued that his contract dated back to the mid-1990s and violated the California law stemming from the old studio contract system known as the “seven year rule,” stating that anyone who renders extraordinary or unique services cannot be bound to a contract for more than seven years. On August 13, 2007, the arbitrator found in favor of Limato and against ICM. Just a few days later, Limato and his movie clients including some making salaries of more than $20M plus first dollar gross went back to the William Morris Agency and joined his former colleagues Jim Wiatt and Dave Wirtschafter. As Wiatt said at the time, “Over the years I’ve respected and admired Ed as both a colleague and competitor, and I can assure you I prefer him as a colleague.” Limato bid his ICM colleagues a fond farewell.
After William Morris merged with Endeavor in June 2009, and despite Wiatt’s ouster from the new company, Limato seamlessly transitioned into WME Entertainment where he was treated with the respect he deserved. At one staff meeting last December, Patrick Whitesell gave accolades to Limato as WME’s “Iron Man” in the vein of MVP QB Brett Favre and presented Ed with a Minnesota Vikings jersey emblazoned with the name “Limato” on the back as staffers stood and applauded. Now, everyone there knew that Ed would rather go to the symphony than attend a football game. But he gamely accepted the jersey and exclaimed, “I can’t wait to wear it on Saturday night.”
Today, WME Entertainment issued this statement to me: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague Ed Limato. He was the consummate agent, launching the careers of some of the most celebrated artists of our time, always with his signature style and class. His passion for this business was contagious, inspiring so many who had the privilege of knowing him. A true legend, Ed has left an indelible mark on our industry. We will miss him dearly.”
After Limato’s departure, ICM’s already troubled motion picture talent edepartment never recovered. ICM Chairman and CEO Jeff Berg gave me this statement on Limato’s passing: “Ed was valued colleague for many years, and he had a remarkable impact on the entertainment business. He dedicated his life to his clients and guided the careers of many important artists in our industry.”
Jim Wiatt emailed me today: “I am saddened by the passing of my friend Ed Limato. I had the privilege to work with Ed for over 30 years, at ICM and the William Morris Agency. He loved his clients, and represented them with style, class and the ultimate commitment to their art. He will be missed, but always remembered.”
Today, Limato’s friends issued this obituary to me, and I can attest that this part is accurate: