Hollywood Talent Giant Ed Limato Dies at 73

The agent was a towering figure in the talent world for three decades, representing such stars as Denzel Washington, Richard Gere and Mel Gibson

Ed Limato, a towering figure in the Hollywood talent world, died on Saturday in his Beverly Hills home.

He was 73.

Limato had been hospitalized recently at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. A knowledgeable individual told TheWrap he died of emphysema while waiting for a lung transplant.

Limato spent most of his career at ICM, but left in 2007 to join the William Morris Agency.

WME said in a statement, “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.”

Jeff Berg, Chairman of ICM, said: “Ed was a 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.”

He became part of the William Morris Endeavor merger, joining WME last year.

Jim Wiatt, the former chief of William Morris, sent this statement: “I am saddened by the passing of my friend and colleague, 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.”

An old-school agent with genteel ways and impeccable tailoring, Limato represented many of the highest-profile actors in Hollywood including Richard Gere, Denzel Washington and Steve Martin. He found himself not just representing but defending the frequently controversial Mel Gibson.

Ed Limato Diana RossLimato was almost as famous for his annual Oscar party at his mansion on Heather Road in Beverly Hills, where he presided over a star-studded blowout on the Friday night before the award ceremony — in bare feet.

WME provided the following retrospective of Limato’s career, gathered by his friends:

Legendary Hollywood talent agent Ed Limato, who spent more than four decades guiding the careers of superstars such as Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Denzel Washington and Steve Martin, died from lung disease at home, where he was surrounded by friends and family. He was 73.

Ed Limato was in a class by himself – an “iconoclast,” as Vanity Fair once called him — a talent agent who glided through Hollywood with poise and panache, as colorful as he was powerful. He harkened back to the Golden Age, yet despite his reverence for Hollywood of yore, his client list kept him active and relevant into the 21st century.

Always handsomely coiffed and impeccably dressed, Limato would promenade into the office wearing Italian suits of mustard yellow or salmon pink, rallying to his assistants with  “Let’s talk to the stars.”

Limato’s love for old Hollywood was not just apparent in his demeanor. His Coldwater Canyon Estate, known as “Heather House,” was built in 1936 by Hollywood stars Dick Powell and Joan Blondell andlater owned by George Raft. The game room was adorned with Hirschfeld caricatures acquired from the old MGM commissary, and his screening room was named after Marlene Dietrich. He even gave his assistants a list of classic Hollywood films that they were to watch and analyze in their reports back to him.

Limato is a luminary, a breed that dwindled with the loss of Stan Kamen and Irving “Swifty” Lazar. Over the years, his client list read like a who’s who of Hollywood legends and Oscar winners. Aside from the aforementioned names, other clients are Antonio Banderas, Claire Danes, Frank Langella, David Selby, Matthew Fox, Derek Luke, Michael Biehn, Tom Schanley, Sam Neill, Valeria Golino, Doris Roberts and Nate Parker. He also guided the careers of Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meryl Streep, Wynona Ryder, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Costner, Goldie Hawn, Dennis Quaid, Madonna, Nicholas Cage, Robert Downey Jr.,  Fred Forest, Adrian Lyne, Madeline Kahn, Jill Clayburgh, James Coco, Anthony La Paglia, Kiefer Sutherland, Billy Baldwin, Ray Liotta, Rutger Hauer, Michael York, Matthew Modine, Geena Davis, William Petersen, Billy Crystal, Ellen Barkin, Laura Dern, James Woods, Keith Carradine, Kathleen Turner, Matthew McConaughey, Angela Bassett, Sharon Stone, Paul Walker, Diana Ross, Melanie Griffith, Jennifer Lopez, Dennis Quaid, Russell Crowe, Thomas Jane, Bette Midler, Harvey Keitel, Sylvester Stallone, and Liam Neeson.

To Limato, his clients were less business and more family. Instead of family photographs in his living room, he kept exquisitely framed headshots of every actor he ever represented.

Edward Frank Limato was born in Mount Vernon, New York, into a middle-class Italian American family. His love of show business took him around the world, from working as a disc jockey in Panama City, Fla., and Alexandria, La., to assisting director Franco Zeffirelli on the set of “The Taming of the Shrew” in Rome.

With the help of Zeffirelli’s agent, Limato returned to New York and took a job in the mailroom at the Ashley-Famous Agency, which eventually became the International Famous Agency – where he was promoted to junior agent.

In 1975, Ashley-Famous merged with Creative Management Associates to become International Creative Management (ICM). Limato transferred to ICM’s West Coast office but was lured away to the William Morris Agency in 1978 by Stan Kamen. He remained there until 1986 when he returned to the agency that gave him his start.

Limato was a voracious reader and believed that good material was the key to stardom. He suggested Michelle Pfeiffer for the role in “Scarface” that launched her career. He begged Richard Gere to star in “Pretty Woman” after the actor expressed trepidation. Over the years, Limato watched joyfully as his clients ascended to the Hollywood “A’ list.  He was eventually named ICM president.

Although it’s common for clients to jump from agency to agency, Limato inspired loyalty from the likes of Gere, Gibson and Washington, who have been with him for most of their careers. Limato was a full-service agent who serviced the client; because of his unique style, Gere, Gibson, Washington and Martin did not have managers.

In 2006, ICM merged with Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann, primarily a TV literary agency. The change in regime prompted Limato’s desire to exit ICM and his contract, but with pushback from the agency the dispute was taken to arbitration. On August 13, 2007, the arbitrator found in favor of Limato and against ICM. With Limato a free agent, Variety wrote, “”Ed Limato’s arbitration victory over ICM … puts into play not only one of Hollywood’s most senior and revered agents but also the most important client list in a generation.” Almost immediately, he and his talent list made a return trip to the venerable William Morris Agency, which merged with Endeavor in June 2009 to form WME.

When Limato wasn’t catering to clients and brokering deals, he served on the boards of Abercrombie & Fitch, the Los Angeles Conservancy, the American Cinematheque and the MPTF.

Limato’s fame as an agent might have only been eclipsed by his annual Oscar party, a relaxed but star-studded event that was held at his home the Friday before the Academy Awards. Limato presided over the party in his regalia and bare feet. Invitations were coveted and reserved only for the cultural elite from the worlds of politics, film, television, music and literature.

Ed Limato is survived by his 99-year-old mother, Angelina; a brother, Paul; a sister, Angela; several nieces and nephews; and scores of agents, assistants and Hollywood executives who trained under him throughout the years.

Funeral service is private and there will be a memorial service scheduled in Los Angeles at a later date.