Business & Economy

Hollywood visionary and LA philanthropist Jerry Perenchio dies at 86

Actress Anjelica Huston (L) and Jerry Perenchio at the 2014 LACMA Art + Film Gala.
Actress Anjelica Huston (L) and Jerry Perenchio at the 2014 LACMA Art + Film Gala.
Rich Polk/Getty Images for LACMA

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A. Jerrold "Jerry" Perenchio, a reclusive onetime talent agent who became one of the richest men in America with an early bet on Univision, has died at the age of 86. 

He died at his home after a five-month battle with lung cancer, a family spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times. 

Perenchio was known as a shrewd investor, leading the team that bought Univision from Hallmark for $550 million in 1992. They sold the network – now the largest Latino media company in the U.S. – to investors, including Haim Saban, in 2007 for $12.3 billion. 

The Times featured Perenchio on its front page as the sale was being completed with the headline: "A Hollywood Player Who Owns the Game"

Ask those who know Perenchio to sum him up, and they all describe him as prescient. Whether booking bands in the 1950s, launching Elton John's career in the U.S. in the 1970s, co-producing blockbuster films like "Blade Runner" and "Driving Miss Daisy" in the 1980s or buying (in 1985) and then quickly flipping at a huge profit the Loews theater chain, Perenchio has made a fortune sensing trends.

"Jerry has always been ahead of everyone else," said Warner Bros. President Alan Horn, who moved to California in 1973 to work for Perenchio when he was managing Lear's business. "He has a great nose. Great instincts. And the guts of a lion."

Perenchio has something else, too, that he believes is key to staying on top: a set of 20 tenets, typed in all capital letters on a single page. Known to everyone at Univision as "The Rules of the Road," they have been Perenchio's compass and have helped make him one of the most powerful forces in Hollywood and one of the wealthiest men in America.

Perenchio earned most of his fortune from Spanish-language television even though he never spoke Spanish.

Throughout his career, he refused to grant interviews or pose for photographs.

"I really don't want my name in the goddamn paper," he told an L.A. Times reporter in 1981. "I really don't mean to be rude. I just don't want to give out interviews. I just hate them."

Perenchio was the largest landowner in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles Times, and Forbes estimated his fortune at $2.7 billion, which put him 225th on the magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans.

Perenchio was a generous political contributor, mostly to Republicans.  The liberal-leaning American Prospect called him "California's Sheldon Adelson," referring to the Las Vegas casino magnate.

He and and his wife donated more than $50 million to political causes, according to The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan political watchdog.

Perenchio also donated millions to charity through The Chartwell Charitable Association, which he founded in 1998. 

In 2014, Perenchio bequeathed his massive art collection to The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It includes at least 47 works by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Claude Monet.

Valued at half a billion dollars, LACMA Director Michael Govan called it the biggest gift in LACMA's 50-year history.

"A very few of us have known that one of the very best collections of art in Los Angeles was held by Mr. Perenchio," Govan told KPCC. "I did seek him out, in a way, but he always had hoped that there would be an opportunity to leave his collection — I think he calls them his 'children' — in Los Angeles."

Ever the dealmaker, Perenchio stipulated that the museum would only get the gift after his death and when it finishes construction of a new building, which Govan hopes will be by 2023.