On Monday coming home on the train I got an email from my colleague Rich Sandomir of the New York Times who asked me if I had heard Jay Larkin died. It was so very sad news. Jay was one of the few mentors that I had…I learned more from him in a little over a year about learning to manage people and grow business at the now defunct International Fight League than I had in countless years at Madison Square Garden or other stops. He was a legend in boxing, a gentleman and a Brooklyn native with a killer instinct and business savvy that as he put it, made Showtime a strong Avis to HBO’s Hertz. More importantly, he was a devoted father and husband who knew when to have a good time and when to work. He helped bring professionalism to the most brutal of sports, and he always spoke his mind.
I have had a lot of gifts in this business, but one of the biggest ones was bringing Jay together with the late Bobby Murcer for lunch two springs ago. Bobby and Jay both had the same form of brain cancer and had conversed via email and phone, and had prayed together, and both were then in remission and the prognosis was bright. (Read the story) They had never met, he told myself and Richard at lunch at the New York Times one day, and we set about to make it happen. I reached out to my friend Eric Handler, head of PR at the YES Network (and also a cancer survivor) and we worked to set the meeting up in early spring. Bobby missed a run at Yankee Stadium, our original choice, so we met with Kay, Bobby’s wife, at a place on the east side. They talked for hours. Bobby was off to do his book tour after that and Jay went back to running the International Fight League and turning it around, making the IFL into the Hertz to the UFC’s Avis. It was a great day full of possibilities for these two great men, one a Southern Baptist who learned Shalom with a drawl (Jay’s word’s not mine), the other a Jew from the streets of New York who learned that the mean streets didn’t have to be that mean any more.
However as the great Hemingway said, “Every true story ends in death,” and this one was a very true one. The IFL succumbed, and sadly so did Bobby, one of the classiest Yankees ever (I told him that day, despite being a Mets fan, his autograph was the first one I had ever gotten…I still have it, from Bat Day at the Stadium, against the California Angels, in 1972). I remember calling Jay the day Bobby died, and his sadness tinged with hope. His prognosis was great, his treatments at Duke were going well, and he was looking to new opportunities and enjoying his family. Over time, I went on to do more consulting but we would talk over the months. I heard from a driver we shared going to the airport that he had a scare or two, and was going to Duke more often. We met for coffee in Nyack…he was disappointed he couldn’t get more consulting work…but was pushing ahead. A few months ago we talked and he was struggling a bit…we tried to meet but he said he was sleeping til 11 every day. I sent a few emails and called, the last time on Saturday, not knowing.
I have had only a few mentors. One, Mike Cohen, passed away of a heart attack in his early 40’s after a legendary and all too short career in PR. Another, Dr. Harvey Schiller, presses on and is better health than anyone half his age. I was lucky to have worked with Jay as well. He was a good teacher, and more importantly, a very good man, a man of character in a world where that trait is often missing. He did what he said he would do, and when he didn’t he tried as hard to make amends. I am very sorry he is gone, and I think so many others who he touched at places like Showtime will be too.? I learned a lot in a short time, and I am very happy to have known him, and oh so sad he is gone.
Never forgotten Jay Larkin my friend. Never forgotten.