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David Geffen

David Geffen

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Also Known As: David Lawrence Geffen Died:
Born: February 21, 1943 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York, USA Profession: executive, producer, agent

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A notorious and high-powered media mogul, David Geffen rose from a working-class Brooklyn upbringing to become one of the most influential and successful entertainment magnates in history. An adroit businessman, Geffen founded both Asylum Records and Geffen Records, and went on to be one of the co-founders of the film studio DreamWorks, SKG. As a record producer, he helped establish performers as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Eagles, and Guns N' Roses. Named one of Forbes magazine's richest Americans many times over, Geffen's net worth in 2006 was estimated at $4.4 billion. Also a well-known philanthropist, he provided funding and support to medical research, AIDS organizations, the Democratic National party, and the arts; after endowing UCLA's Medical Center with $200 million, the center was renamed The David Geffen School of Medicine. As famous in the tabloids as he was in the business world, Geffen's personal life made headlines many times over. He was linked romantically to both Cher and actress Marlo Thomas before publicly acknowledging that he was gay in 1992, and dealt with a four-year bout of cancer which later proved to be a misdiagnosis. With his overwhelming...

A notorious and high-powered media mogul, David Geffen rose from a working-class Brooklyn upbringing to become one of the most influential and successful entertainment magnates in history. An adroit businessman, Geffen founded both Asylum Records and Geffen Records, and went on to be one of the co-founders of the film studio DreamWorks, SKG. As a record producer, he helped establish performers as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Eagles, and Guns N' Roses. Named one of Forbes magazine's richest Americans many times over, Geffen's net worth in 2006 was estimated at $4.4 billion. Also a well-known philanthropist, he provided funding and support to medical research, AIDS organizations, the Democratic National party, and the arts; after endowing UCLA's Medical Center with $200 million, the center was renamed The David Geffen School of Medicine. As famous in the tabloids as he was in the business world, Geffen's personal life made headlines many times over. He was linked romantically to both Cher and actress Marlo Thomas before publicly acknowledging that he was gay in 1992, and dealt with a four-year bout of cancer which later proved to be a misdiagnosis. With his overwhelming ambition and financial prowess, Geffen truly became the king of an entertainment empire.

Born Feb. 21, 1943 in Brooklyn, NY to Abraham and Batya Geffen, the youngster was raised in the predominately Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park. Though his school grades were generally poor while growing up, Geffen learned business skills from his mother, a Ukrainian immigrant who ran her own corset shop. He went on to attend college at the University of Texas in Austin where his brother, Mitchell, was also a student. Wanting to pursue a career in entertainment, however, Geffen soon dropped out. He began his new career by working in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency - a job he landed by supplying forged credentials. Showing a natural aptitude for show business, he eventually (and famously) worked his way up to agent. After leaving William Morris, Geffen went on to work for the Ashley Famous Agency as a music agent. In 1969, Geffen co-founded a talent management company with Elliott Roberts, with the hopes of representing a number of musicians he had discovered, including performers Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell.

Combining his adept gift for recognizing talent with his business know-how, Geffen founded Asylum Records in 1971. Signing artists such as Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt, Asylum proved to be a successful venture and was acquired by Warner Communications a year later, merging with Elektra Records in 1972. Receiving $2 million in cash and $5 million in Warner Communications stock, Geffen became one of the company's largest shareholders. He served as president and chairman of Elektra/Asylum Records until 1975, when he crossed over to film and was named vice chairman of Warner Brothers Pictures. Supporting his love of music, Geffen opened the Los Angeles nightclub The Roxy in September of 1973. Located on L.A.'s famed Sunset Strip, Neil Young headlined the opening night of the club. After meeting popular entertainer Cher at the opening, Geffen began to date the singer. Though the pair would later plan to marry, Cher's divorce from Sonny Bono had not yet been finalized and the couple later split in 1974.

Suffering another personal setback, Geffen was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1976, an illness he dealt with for four years before learning, in 1980, that he had been misdiagnosed. Rebounding professionally, he went on to form Geffen Records, signing John Lennon on as one of the company's first artists that same year. After a 4 year self-imposed exile from recording, the much anticipated Lennon album Double Fantasy, recorded with wife Yoko Ono, would end up being his last. Released in December of 1980, the album came out just days before Lennon's tragic assassination, which occurred shortly after the former Beatle returned home from the recording studio. Comforting a grieving Ono, Geffen rushed to the hospital and later issued a statement to the press on the widow's behalf. As could be expected, Double Fantasy sales skyrocketed. Geffen Records went on to sign a number of top artists, including Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Guns N' Roses, Nirvana and Geffen's ex, Cher. Though the record company proved an instant success, artistic conflict quickly arose. After signing renowned artist Neil Young to the label under a strict recording contract, Young produced a number of experimental albums which proved less than successful commercially than his previous work. Geffen sued Young in 1984, on the grounds that he had submitted songs uncharacteristic to his usual sound. Though the lawsuit was later settled, Young left the label for Reprise Records in 1988.

Through the record label's companion firm, the Geffen Film Company, Geffen produced a number of successful films. Giving Tom Cruise his breakout performance, the company produced "Risky Business" in 1983 as well as the films "After Hours" (1985), "Lost in America" (1985), "Little Shop of Horrors" (1988) and "Beetlejuice" (1988). Never one to be confined to a single medium, Geffen branched out into theater, providing financial backing for the hit Broadway musicals "Dreamgirls" and "Cats," as well as the dramas "Master Harold...and the Boys" and "M. Butterfly." Capitalizing on his success with Geffen Records, Geffen sold the label to MCA for stock in 1990, netting a reported $710 million when MCA was sold to Matsushita in 1991.

In a bold personal move, Geffen came out publicly as a gay man in 1992, making the announcement at the Los Angeles AIDS Project Commitment to Life dinner. Geffen was later named Man of the Year 1992 by the gay and lesbian news magazine The Advocate.

In one of his most publicized ventures to date, Geffen went on to co-found a new movie studio - DreamWorks SKG - in 1994 with film director Steven Spielberg and former Disney studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg. Distributing films such as "American Beauty" (1999), "Gladiator" (2000), "Shrek" (2001), "Minority Report" (2002) and "Shrek 2" (2004), DreamWorks rose to become one of the top ten movie studios in Hollywood with more than 10 of its films grossing more than $100 million each. Geffen announced, however, in December of 2005, along with fellow business partners Spielberg and Katzenberg, that they had made a deal to sell the studio to Viacom, Paramount Pictures' parent company. Though DreamWorks Animation Studios remained independent, the deal specified that its films would be distributed worldwide through Paramount. Geffen finalized the deal in February of 2006.

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Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Brooklyn
1963:
Started career at CBS Television in L.A.; reportedly fired for striking an audience member who applauded the announcement of the assassination of President John F Kennedy
1963:
Began career working in mailroom of William Morris talent agency (date approximate)
:
Became a junior agent at William Morris
1968:
Moved to Ashley Famous Agency as a music agent
:
Became an agent at Creative Management
1969:
Co-founded (with Elliott Roberts) talent management company for musicians he discovered and developed; first hit performer was Laura Nyro (date approximate)
1969:
Engineered sale of Nyro's publishing company, Tuna Fish Ltd., for $4 million; received half
1970:
Founded Asylum Records
1973:
President then chairman, Electra-Asylum Records; sold to Warner Communications (for a reported $7 million); also headed film production unit at Warner Communications
1975:
Named vice chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures
1976:
Diagnosed with cancer; later discovered to be mis-diagnosis
1977:
Named executive assistant to the chairman, Warner Communications
1980:
Formed Geffen Records (independent label) and Geffen Film Co.
1982:
Produced first Broadway play, "Master Harold...and the Boys"
1982:
Produced first feature, "Personal Best"
1989:
Produced first TV series, "Beetlejuice" (animated)
1990:
Sold Geffen Records to MCA
1990:
March 20 formed DGC (David Geffen Company) music
1992:
Came out as gay at a "Commitment to Life" benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles
1994:
Announced, along with former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, the forming of DreamWorks SKG, a new studio that would produce movies at a more cost efficient level than the major studios
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Education

University of Texas at Austin: Austin , Texas -

Notes

The Geffen-produced play, "Master Harold...and the Boys" was also nominated for a Best Play Tony award (1982).

Reflecting on whether his success can be attributed to brains or to luck, Geffen remarked, "Luck is just about being in the traffic. And I've stayed in traffic for a long time now. I've been wealthy my entire adult life. But I'll tell you one thing. I wouldn't rather be smart than lucky. I'll take it however it comes. Because I'd rather win than be right." --quoted in VANITY FAIR, March 1991

Geffen, who has been characterized as the man who went from "being in love with Cher to being in love with Marlo Thomas to being in love with a guy at Studio 54", has attracted controversy for both his promiscuity ("I began wanting to get laid a lot [after they removed the tumor]") and his bisexuality. On the latter topic he frankly admitted, "I date men and I date women. What Woody Allen said was true. Say what you will about bisexuality, you have a 50 percent better chance of finding a date on Saturday night." (quoted in VANITY FAIR, March 1991) About a year later Geffen publicly disclosed his homosexuality at a benefit fundraiser for AIDS.

Part of the reason for Geffen's success may be due to his versatility; according to friend restaurateur Peter Morton, "David is the most perfect combination of business and artist. Unlike almost everybody else, he functions in both worlds." --quoted in VANITY FAIR, March 1991

Member of the music faculty at Yale University (1978); he has also taught at UCLA.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Marlo Thomas. Actor.
companion:
Cher. Singer, actress. Began relationship in 1972; announced plans to marry; Cher ended relationship in 1974.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Abraham Geffen. Patternmaker.
mother:
Batya Geffen. Seamstress, shop owner. Died in 1988; took in sewing during the Depression then opened own corset shop, Chic Corsets by Geffen.
brother:
Mitchell Geffen. Attorney. Older.

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Rise and Rise of David Geffen" Birch Lane Press
"The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood" Random House

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