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Jay Bernstein, 68; manager launched Hollywood stars to fame

LOS ANGELES -- Jay Bernstein, the flamboyant Hollywood personal manager best known as the ''star-maker" who launched Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers to fame in the 1970s, has died. He was 68.

Mr. Bernstein, a onetime Hollywood publicist, died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a stroke, publicist Warren Cowan said. Fawcett, Mr. Bernstein's longtime friend and client, was at his bedside.

''There are no words to express how sad and devastated I am," Fawcett said in a statement. ''I have lost one of my dearest friends and the industry has lost a giant."

Rolling Stone magazine once said Mr. Bernstein ''is famous for making people famous."

As a publicist in the 1960s and early '70s, his many clients included Sammy Davis Jr., Sally Field, William Holden, and Burt Lancaster.

Moving into personal management in 1975, he took on Fawcett and helped turn her into a national phenomenon as one of the original stars of the television series ''Charlie's Angels" and the smiling subject of a famous swimsuit poster.

Mr. Bernstein, who reportedly once paid women to throw hotel room keys at singer Tom Jones, never lost his flair for publicity as a personal manager.

In 1985, ''Entertainment Tonight" anchor Mary Hart made headlines when she had her legs insured with Lloyd's of London for $1 million each.

As Somers's personal manager, Mr. Bernstein once rounded up the media in the dead of winter to see her at the Central Park skating rink clad in high heels, a mink and a bikini.

Somers said on Tuesday that she had no personal management when the TV series ''Three's Company" began in 1977.

''I was watching what Jay Bernstein did with Farrah Fawcett," Somers said. ''I went to Jay and said, 'I'll make a deal with you.' "

The deal was that she would give him all the money she was making during the initial run of ''Three's Company" as a six-week replacement series. In exchange, he would make her ''visible enough" so that if the series didn't make it, she could get another job, she said.

''So I invested in him as a manager, and it was a good investment," Somers said.

The first year after Mr. Bernstein took over, Somers said she was featured on 55 national magazine covers -- and became a household name.

Mr. Bernstein also carved out a niche as a producer.

Among his credits as an executive producer are the TV series ''Bring 'Em Back Alive," ''Houston Knights," and the various Mike Hammer series and TV movies starring Stacy Keach as the hard-boiled private eye -- as well as the movies ''Sunburn," starring Fawcett, and ''Nothing Personal," starring Somers.

Mr. Bernstein was known for carrying jeweled walking sticks -- he had hundreds of canes in his collection -- and for wearing a loaded .38 caliber or Beretta pistol in a holster in the small of his back.

He also was a big-game hunter and a scuba diver who married model Cabrina Finn underwater in 1993 for a segment of TV's ''Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." They were divorced two years later.

Mr. Bernstein was born June 7, 1937, in Oklahoma City. After heading to southern California and graduating from Pomona College, he got a job in the mail room at the William Morris talent agency, and then worked several years at Rogers & Cowan public relations. He formed his own public relations company in 1962.

Mr. Bernstein leaves a daughter, Amber; a sister, Jane Rizen; and his mother, Natalie.

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