It was a few years later that I was introduced to Howard Schultz through my agent at Endeavor. He was very carefree and funny. Not the typical suit you would picture. I was taking a hot comic around LA to visit with producers and managers, and Howard had an interest in him as a potential host of a new show.
As I ran off episodes of of the George and Alana Show and Sex Wars from memory that I enjoyed, Howard just stared at me in awe, mouth literally agape. More so because he thought I probably watch way too much television. It was the beginning of a long friendship.
Every time I went to LA I would drop into his office to see him. Sometimes without an appointment. Not once did he ever refuse to see me. Over the span of 16 years we would sit and talk for a minimum of 1 hour, sometimes 2. Every single time.
Howard was very honest. He could not be bullied, but he was first to admit when he was wrong. He had values and morals and always stuck to them, even if it cost him a deal or money. Howard had a knack of knowing what people were going to watch. From Naked Dating to Extreme Makeover, he had a touch that made him wanted by networks, but just under the radar of being a ‘celebrity producer’. He wasn’t dining with movie stars or having lunch at The Grill, instead he would go on and on about his ranch in Colorado or things his kids were doing.
The last time I saw him was in the summer. He never really believed in hypnosis and finally got me to hypnotize a person on his staff. Ironically I ended up putting the all the staff out, except for the one I was supposed to. Howard looked at me when everyone left and smiled softly saying “I have never seen that calm side to you. Maybe maturity is taking over afterall”. He never feared I would be successful, but instead I maintain my values and not change. He would stress it over and over again to me. He would tell me that money doesn’t matter at the end of your life, but your legacy lives on. So make it a good one.
When he got into a battle with the most powerful agent in the world, he told me that out of being lied to in his opinion, he would be OK with going bankrupt if he lost. It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about never working again, it was about the trust he gave and wanted to receive. He felt that being lied to was more hurtful than losing his money. I’m sure he wasn’t an angel, none of us are. But he tried everyday to be a good person. He had fun in life, and treated others like he wanted to be treated. Most times he walked away from conflict stating ‘life is too short to care about small matters. What’s the point in making a lot of money if you have to give it to lawyers?’. He laughed a lot. His pictures all have a big smile.
I feel like I lost a parent in a sense. Very few people take such an interest in someone and care enough to be honest and blunt. To his family, I am sure they are at a loss but as he said to me, they are OK.
“If today I have to go, I would do nothing different. I have lived doing what I wanted to do, and being who I wanted to be. So I’m OK with it all being over today.”
Instead of being sad over the loss of my mentor, adviser and friend, I will choose to remember what he taught me so that his time with me was not wasted. Maybe one day I will be able to do same for someone else.
Howard died in Hawaii on December 29, 2014
Sanjay Burman is the founder of Burman Books. He has been an author, agent, and producer, and is based in Toronto.