Gerry Harrington: Agent whose clients included Stallone, Pitt and Strummer

 

It is characteristic of those employed in Hollywood's high-end service industries to ceaselessly sell themselves as the "very good friend" of stellar celebrities. And Los Angeles agent and manager Gerry Harrington was no stranger to such a trait.

Yet in his case there was generally more than a kernel of truth to such claims, which were often reciprocated. "My dear friend Gerry Harrington has left the proverbial building once and for all," Chrissie Hynde wrote on Facebook after he died, following a domestic fall. "Gerry turned me on to many great bands (most notably Urge Overkill) over the years and tons of books too. Oh, and he dragged me out of my hole and got me hanging out again with a bunch of my old pals from the punk days. Strummer mainly. He was a great friend, loyal and true."

Hugely professional and ceaselessly passionate, the driven Harrington was a generous human being, with both his spirit and his time. Among the film stars he worked with were Brad Pitt, Sylvester Stallone, Rosanna Arquette and Nicolas Cage, who name-checked him in his Best Actor Oscar acceptance speech for 1995's Leaving Las Vegas; it was Harrington who secured Cage his role in Michael Bay's The Rock, turning him into a multi-million dollar-earning action star.

Harrington, however, was really in love with rock'n'roll – his music memorabilia was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. "He had that fan thing which was what made him better than all the suits," said Jody Worth, a friend who wrote the HBO series Deadwood. "He was starstruck, but his taste was mostly good."

The first three artists Harrington took on to manage were Joe Strummer, Tom Waits and David Johansen, three of the most credible singers of the mid-1980s. Following the demise of The Clash, Strummer was in San Francisco recording the soundtrack for Alex Cox's Walker movie when Harrington tracked him down, giving him his pitch. Appreciating Harrington's earnest fan-like innocence, Strummer agreed; Harrington put together the deal for his Earthquake Weather solo album.

The gall that led him to San Francisco to introduce himself to Strummer was typical. Robin Cracknell, a photographer friend from Georgetown University, where Harrington studied foreign affairs, recalled a visit to a Rolling Stones stadium date on their 1981 tour, when they were both still students. "Gerry had a friend whose brother was the manager of Journey, and he relentlessly bullied this boy to get us backstage passes, with a drive and courage that I would never have had. And then, like a Bowfinger moment, grabs Ron Wood as he's passing so they have their photos taken together, as though they are friends. And ironically, 10 years later, they are friends. His life worked out because he always had that desire for backstage importance – which would have stopped most people."

At Georgetown, Cracknell recalled, Harrington at first "was a guy from Bronxville, New York, wearing plaid shorts. A total outsider, absolutely not part of the cool Manhattan crowd. But he had this ability to almost clone himself and became close friends with [shipping heir] Constantine Niarchos, who was a ticket to a world he couldn't have otherwise had – the younger Kennedy clan, for example. He was very smart about how to comport himself and take on the code of the crowd you want to be in. He went very quickly to being one of the cool guys with the connected friends, and it served him very well in his work."

Like many other highly successful Hollywood functionaries, Harrington began his career in New York in the mailroom at William Morris, the talent agency. Relocating to Los Angeles, he joined APA, a further agency, moving in the early 1990s to Brillstein/Grey, at the time the world's top agent and management firm.

After marrying Angela Janklow, the daughter of Mort Janklow, the New York literary super-agent, and grand-daughter of Harry Warner, who had founded the Warner Brothers studio, Harrington was part of Hollywood royalty. The couple's sumptuous Bel Air house was the scene of celebrated parties, including one in 1994 that ended in a near-fight between the entourages of Madonna and Mark Wahlberg.

Following the break-up of his marriage, and his somewhat Gatsby-like existence, Harrington formed a production company with Jesse Dylan, the son of the legendary singer. Forever an Anglophile, for a time he managed Steve Coogan and Toby Kebbell, and was instrumental in the 2011 tour of a revived Big Audio Dynamite, formed by Mick Jones after he split with Harrington's former client Joe Strummer.

Harrington had earned an estimated annual $2m from his chosen profession. Yet before he died, he was broke. One of his famous clients allegedly owed him $4m in commission, but assorted interested parties deemed it politically inappropriate to call in this money. Of late, he had suffered from vertigo, injuring his skull on one occasion. And when Jody Worth called him at his rented Nichols Canyon house two days before he died, he was evidently "loaded". Although he'd been in rehab for alcohol abuse, Harrington was once again drinking like a fish and pounding through piles of Marlboros.

"He wasn't making much sense," said the screenwriter, "but his spirits were good. He was ready to fight his way back."

Chris Salewicz

Gerald Harrington, agent and manager: born Bronxville, New York 2 July 1962; married 1992 Angela Janklow (marriage dissolved; two daughters); died Los Angeles 9 February 2013.

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