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Geffen, David (b. 1943)  
 
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One of the most feared and admired, revered and reviled figures in the entertainment industry, David Geffen succeeded in transforming himself, either through sheer ingenuity or outright guile, from his humble origins in Brooklyn into one of the most important people in the arenas of corporate rock music, movies, and television.

According to Steve Kurutz, Geffen is responsible for guiding the careers of, and forming lasting (if tumultuous) friendships with, countless big-name musical acts, such as The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Nirvana, Elton John, and Cher.

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Geffen's combative style, as well as his forthright honesty and compulsive competitiveness, however, have earned him many detractors and some outright enemies.

For his foes, Geffen exemplifies the greed and excess of the music industry. In their eyes he is a shark who changed the priority from music to money. For others, however, Geffen is regarded as an extraordinarily generous and caring person, one who believes in and supports passionately a diverse array of social and political causes, ranging from homeless shelters to AIDS research.

David Lawrence Geffen was born on February 21, 1943 in Brooklyn, the son of Batya and Abraham Geffen, Russian Jewish immigrants who settled in New York in 1931. Although David's older brother Mitchell (b. February 6, 1933) was long considered the family's success story, Abraham and Batya spoiled David, foregoing discipline in favor of extravagant praise, and often referred to him as "King David." Because of this lack of discipline, David struggled in school, and he barely graduated from New Utrecht (New York) High School in 1960 with a final grade average of 73.59.

Following high school, David shuttled between his home in Brooklyn and Mitchell's apartment at UCLA. Returning to New York in 1961, he bluffed his way into a mailroom job at the prestigious William Morris Agency by both implying that he was legendary record producer Phil Spector's cousin and padding his résumé with a false degree from UCLA.

At the Morris agency, Geffen set about learning everything about the entertainment industry. After ingratiating himself to agency president Nat Lefkowitz, he began charting his ascendancy. Through Lefkowitz, Geffen became one of the agencies' hottest agents, and in 1967 he got his first big break when he signed bisexual songwriter Laura Nyro and, soon afterwards, negotiated for her a lucrative music publishing deal that netted them each three million dollars plus a substantial share of future royalties.

Geffen's brash style also catapulted him into the executive ranks at Atlantic Records, for which he signed the newly formed super-group Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Geffen was soon able to bankroll his own label, Asylum Records, which was initially distributed by Atlantic Records but quickly sold by Geffen to Warner Brothers in 1971 for $7,000,000. Geffen, however, stayed on as head of Asylum.

In 1976, citing burnout and health scares, Geffen retired from the industry; but in 1980 he returned to form Geffen Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. In an attempt to make Geffen Records a viable brand, he quickly snapped up performers such as Elton John and Donna Summer, although both artists, having weathered a shift in musical direction, recorded mediocre material and soon left the label.

In the midst of this early discord at his record label, David Geffen was also maneuvering himself into the arena of movies. In 1982, by parlaying his friendship with Warner Brothers executive Steve Ross, Geffen soon produced several notable movies, including the lesbian-themed Personal Best and the teen classic Risky Business, which starred Tom Cruise in the memorable role of Joel. Over the next decade Geffen went on to produce a mixed array of films, but he leapt at the chance to work again with Cruise in the 1994 vampire film Interview with the Vampire.

As the 1980s progressed, however, Geffen also worked diligently to make his record label profitable. By the late 1980s he had keenly recognized, and subsequently signed, big revenue-producing bands such as Aerosmith and the controversial heavy metal band Guns 'N Roses, for whom he weathered controversy over the band's song "One In a Million." Geffen was also able to resuscitate Cher's career by using his shrewd business acumen as well as capitalizing on their former romantic attachment.

Although Geffen had been linked romantically to both Cher and actress Marlo Thomas, his homosexuality was an open secret in the entertainment industry. Geffen had already lost several of his close friends to AIDS, but he was particularly affected by the death of his pal and partying companion Steve Rubell, owner of the infamous New York disco Studio 54.

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