Jerry Perenchio, Dealmaker Who Built Univision, Dies at 86

(Bloomberg) -- Jerry Perenchio, a one-time talent agent and sports promoter who in a career spanning more than 50 years built Univision into the largest Spanish-language broadcaster in the U.S. and came to be regarded as the consummate Hollywood dealmaker, has died. He was 86.

Perenchio died Monday of lung cancer at his Bel-Air home, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing a spokesman for the family.

Jerry Perenchio

Photographer: Nick Ut/AP Photo

Perenchio and two partners bought Univision as a struggling operation from Hallmark Cards Inc. for $550 million in 1992. He was chairman and chief executive officer of Univision Communications Inc. until early 2007, when the largest U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster was sold to a group of private-equity investors for $12.3 billion.

As a talent agent, Perenchio represented Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, among others; as a sports promoter, he staged the first boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971. Beginning in 1973, he operated several successful television production companies with Norman Lear, ultimately selling their Embassy Communications for $485 million in 1985.

Known for avoiding the limelight and the press, Perenchio had a net worth of $3.1 billion as of March 2016, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In 2014, he bequeathed at least 47 artworks, including paintings by Picasso and Monet, worth $500 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Vintner’s Son

Andrew Jerrold Perenchio was born on Dec. 20, 1930, in Fresno, California, the only child of Andrew Joseph Perenchio and the former Dorothea Harvey. His father was co-owner of Fresno’s Sunnyside Winery.

At 15, Jerry Perenchio attended Black-Foxe Military Institute, the now-defunct Los Angeles prep school that attracted the sons of movie stars and moneyed South American families. His classmates voted him “biggest showman & promoter” and “teller of tall tales,” according to a 2006 Los Angeles Times story.

He received a lavish weekly allowance of $150 until his father suffered a business reversal after dabbling in the entertainment business. “I hadn’t put five cents away,” Perenchio told Broadcasting magazine in 1979 in a rare interview. “I realized I’d have to go to work.”

To finance his studies at the University of California in Los Angeles, he catered fraternity parties and booked bands. A month after graduating in 1954, he married Robin Gardner Green, a young divorcee with two daughters. He began a three-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. Together they had one son.

Chartwell Artists

After leaving the Air Force, Perenchio worked briefly for a talent agency before joining Music Corp. of America in 1958. He remained with MCA until the company dissolved its agency business to silence Justice Department opposition to its takeover of Universal Pictures in 1962.

He started his own agency, Chartwell Artists, with the financial support of a few associates and relatives, including his wife Robin, who had inherited her father’s estate. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1969, the same year Perenchio married Jackie Thaxton, the divorced wife of TV producer Lloyd Thaxton.

‘Afternoon’s Work’

Perenchio was no stranger to Las Vegas, where he invested $50,000 in Caesars Palace in 1966 and helped find new buyers for the casino in 1969.

Jackie Perenchio accompanied her husband to Miami when he courted the owners of Lum’s restaurant chain as the eventual buyers and collected a finder’s fee of $800,000. It was “an afternoon’s work,” she said, according to a 1981 Los Angeles Times story.

In 1971, Perenchio teamed with the late Jack Kent Cooke to stage “The Fight of the Century” between Ali and Frazier at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Two years later, he promoted the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

He became president of Tandem Productions, owned by writer-producers Lear and Bud Yorkin, in 1973. The company was responsible for hit TV programs, including “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son.”

He formed a separate venture with Lear in 1975 called TAT Communications, producing “The Jeffersons,” “One Day at a Time” and other shows.

Pay TV

In 1977, Perenchio launched a pay-TV service from a station in Los Angeles with a partner, Oak Industries. Four years later, he sold his 49 percent stake in National Subscription Television, known as ON-TV, to Oak for $55 million, demonstrating adroit timing as multi-channel cable operators soon eviscerated the market for a single pay-TV service.

By 1981, Tandem Productions held an 8 percent stake in Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. Later that year, Perenchio, Lear and Yorkin acquired 9 percent of Filmways Inc.

In 1985, Perenchio and Lear decided to sell their TV and film businesses -- operating under the corporate moniker of Embassy Communications -- to Coca-Cola Co., then-owner of Columbia Pictures, for $485 million.

In another deal that year, he led an investor group that paid $160 million for the Loews movie-theater chain. It was sold for about $300 million the following year, according to Forbes magazine.

In 1989, Perenchio teamed with Cablevision Systems Corp. founder Charles Dolan in a hostile bid for Time Inc. While the attempt failed, the effort earned him a seat on the Cablevision board for a number of years.

Univision Communications

Perenchio joined Mexico’s Emilio Azcarraga Milmo and Venezuelan media magnate Gustavo Cisneros to buy the Spanish-language TV stations and Univision network from Hallmark in 1992. Azcarraga, like Perenchio, was born in 1930, attended a U.S. military boarding school and had built a media empire.

Azcarraga, who had sold the Univision assets to Hallmark in 1986 under pressure from the Federal Communications Commission as a foreign owner, took a minority stake in the Perenchio-led transaction and provided most of the programming from his Grupo Televisa studios in Mexico.

Univision Communications Inc. went public in 1996. At the time of its sale in 2007, it had grown into the fifth-biggest U.S. television network. In 2015, the broadcaster announced plans to return to the market as a publicly traded company.

In matters of philanthropy and politics, Perenchio emulated his long-ago boss, the late MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman, who gave generously while ducking the spotlight. He raised $80 million for UCLA’s new medical center and campaigned to put Ronald Reagan’s name on the complex, according to a Los Angeles magazine story in 2001.

Republican Fundraising

In 2004, Perenchio hosted a fundraiser for the national GOP at his Bel Air estate, seen often on TV as the setting for “The Beverly Hillbillies” and which he called “Chartwell.” He had earlier applied the name to Chartwell Partners LLC, the boutique investment firm he founded in 1983.

Perenchio was John McCain’s national finance co-chairman in 2008 during the Republican U.S. senator’s bid for president. He also supported Carly Fiorina when she ran for U.S. senator in 2010 and again in 2016 as she sought the Republican nomination for U.S. president.

He used philanthropy to end a headline-grabbing dispute with environmentalists and regulators over his failure to obtain permits for a private 10-acre golf course he built at his weekend Malibu home. In June 2004, he said he would donate the property to the state after his death and that of his third wife, whom he married in 1987.

Perenchio is survived by his wife, Margaret Perenchio, his three grown children John, Catherine and Candace from his first marriage, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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