Befitting the man, the Bernie Brillstein memorial on Monday night ran the emotional gamut from naughty to nice, from respectful to irreverent, from silly to sweet.
When none other than Kermit the Frog closed the two-hour tribute with a heartfelt rendition of "Rainbow Connection," there wasn't a peep in Royce Hall, other than sniffling and the rustling of tissues. The crowd for the event organized by Brad Grey and Lorne Michaels was large and high-powered, with virtually every major studio, talent agency, network represented, as well as an eclectic mix of top talent.
Royce Hall seats about 1,800 people, and it was packed all but for a few rows of the balcony so I'm guessing there were at least 1,200 or so who came out to salute the man variously described as a father figure, a trusted friend, a source of sage wisdom and "Santa Claus." The outdoor reception in the quad afterward was elegant and full of conversation, including talk of pending deals and new clients and projects to pitch -- the hum of a hopping showbiz party that no doubt would have made the honoree, who died Thursday at 77, very proud.
The Blues Brothers -- Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd -- even reunited for the occasion, pulling out the shades and skinny ties to romp through two numbers, "Messin' with the Kid" and "Flip, Flop and Fly." "That was for you, kid," Aykroyd called out as they shimmied off the stage.
Most of the speakers noted Brillstein's fondness for "kid" as a term of endearment, or as a conversation-starter.
"For the first time, I get to say, 'Don't let 'em get you, kid," Grey said, with a catch in his voice, in closing his remarks.
Grey told an only-in-showbiz story about having to work fast over the weekend to secure a funeral and burial service at Hillside Memorial this past Sunday. When the mortuary informed the Brillstein family that they were overbooked for the day, Bernie's widow, Carrie, reached out to Brad, who reached out to Lorne Michaels for advice, who suggested that Brad simply "bump someone."
Brad's first response was "I don't think you can do that -- these people are dead." But he thought about it some more, made some calls and, amazingly, got it done.
"We apologize and thank the Cohen family of Encino, who will now be burying their beloved grandfather Sherman on Tuesday," Grey explained.
Every speaker had a great Bernie story or two, and most had a great line, or two. To wit:
Martin Short: "He used to say to me, 'Kid, I'm going to get you a gig at Royce Hall if it kills me.'"
Brad Grey: "We somehow sold the same company three times...Bernie started to refer to us as Bialystock and Bloom."
Bill Maher: "In the late 1980s I used to get Bernie pot. The first time I made him laugh was when I said, 'Bernie, what happened to the days when the manager used to get drugs for the client?'"
Norm Crosby: "First there was Management III. Then the Brillstein Company. Then Brillstein-Grey. Then Brillstein Entertainment Partners. And in all that time out of all those companies he got me six jobs."
Sandy Wernick: "Bernie loved show business. He loved it unequivocally, with all its flaws and its fecal matter."
Jack Burns: "Bernie got me a job on a sitcom. I was nervous so I had a few drinks before the show, and I had a few drinks at the wrap. Bernie called me the next day and asked, 'Were you drunk last night?' You hit on Aunt Bea.'"
Abe Hoch: "Bernie would drop his pants and his shorts and just pee on a golf course, wherever and whenever he felt like it. It makes golf much more interesting, especially at Hillcrest."
Jon Lovitz: "I can't tell if I'm at a eulogy or an audition."
Steve Tyrell (singing): "I can't give you anything but love ... Bernie."
Jerry Weintraub: "We were making $500 a week. We thought we had all the money in the world. I bought a Rolls-Royce."
John Larroquette: "He would always give know just the right thing to say when a deal or an opportunity didn't work out as we'd hoped: 'Fuck 'em. Next!'"
Rob Lowe: "He always said 'Trust me, kid, if there's a heaven, Belushi would have called.'"
Alan Zweibel: "Over our 30 years together he told me to shove a lot of things up my ass: First drafts of screenplays; CAA; opera; the Celtics; Sepulveda; the Internet; Palm Springs; and foods you're not supposed to put ketchup on."
Jon Liebman: "This is a hard time. It's very, very difficult for me. I loved 'The Bernie Mac Show'."
David Spade: "He was not like a father to me. He didn't ditch me when I was 4 and then borrow money from me the rest of my life."
Dan Aykroyd: "In some parallel dimension, where the halls will ring with his laugh, we'll see each other and he'll say, 'Well, kid -- we fooled 'em again.'"
Lorne Michaels: "I've been imagining Bernie's first lunch with God. Bernie wants to meet God because, well, he's God. God wants to meet Bernie because he's Bernie, and because he really loved 'Ghostbusters.'"
Kermit the Frog: "In a business where all of us know that it's not that easy being green, I never had a better friend than Bernie."