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George Shapiro, producer and manager of comedy stars including Jerry Seinfeld, dies at 91

Shapiro was co-founder and partner in Shapiro/West Associates, the talent management banner that helped assemble “Seinfeld” and projects for Andy Kaufman.
/ Source: Variety

George Shapiro, producer and longtime manager of Jerry Seinfeld, Carl Reiner, Andy Kaufman and other comedy stars, died Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 91.

Shapiro was co-founder and partner in Shapiro/West Associates, the prosperous talent management banner that helped assemble the mammoth NBC hit "Seinfeld" and numerous projects for Andy Kaufman. More recently, Shapiro served as executive producer of the Crackle/Netflix series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," hosted by Seinfeld.

A vivacious personality, Shapiro was known for his long relationships with clients and for his infectious enthusiasm for the business of entertainment.

“Shapiro’s love of laughter and reverence for those who inspire it helped him build a career in comedy as an unabashed supporter of comic performers and comedy writers,” Shapiro’s family stated.

George Shapiro accepts the lifetime of bliss award onstage at the David Lynch Foundation:  A Night of Comedy honoring Shapiro in 2012.
George Shapiro accepts the lifetime of bliss award onstage at the David Lynch Foundation: A Night of Comedy honoring Shapiro in 2012. John Shearer / Invision for David Lynch Foundation/AP Images

Danny De Vito, who co-starred with Andy Kaufman in the influential 1978-1983 sitcom “Taxi,” recalled Shapiro’s presence during the production of the Paramount Television series that aired on ABC and NBC. De Vito would later play Shapiro in the 1999 Kaufman biopic “Man On the Moon,” starring Jim Carrey.

"George was one of the sweetest guys on the planet. We got to see that smiling face every Friday night during the ‘Taxi’ days. He never missed a show," De Vito said in a statement. "Peace brother."

Shapiro’s role as a force in the comedy business for more than a half-century was saluted in a statement from the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, N.Y., for which he was a founding advisory board member. “He believed deeply in our mission to celebrate and preserve comedy’s heritage,” said Journey Gunderson, executive director of the center.

Raised in the Bronx, Shapiro had a decades-long partnership with West, who was a childhood friend. Shapiro was related to Reiner by marriage, as a nephew to Reiner’s wife, Estelle Reiner. Shapiro’s formative years were chronicled in 2019 in the HBO documentary "The Bronx, USA." Reiner died in 2020.

As a teenager, Shapiro spent his summers working as a lifeguard at the famed Tamiment Resort in the Poconos where he was exposed to the inner workings of showbiz and performers such as Dick Shawn, Pat Carroll and Carol Burnett as well as singer Barbara Cook. He also met talent agents which piqued his interest in moving into a behind-the-scenes role.

After graduating from NYU and serving a hitch in the Army, Carl Reiner ultimately helped Shapiro get a job in the mailroom of his talent agency, the mighty William Morris Agency. It wasn’t long before the energetic young man was promoted to junior agent. He began packaging TV series and checking out the cream of the comedy crop in mid-1960s New York, including Lenny Bruce, Mike Nichols and Elaine May and Phyllis Diller. He also brought his old friend West into the talent agency business.

As the industry evolved, Shapiro realized he need to move to the Morris office on the West Coast to keep his finger on the pulse of talent. After relocating, he helped assemble such series as "Gomer Pyle, USMC," "That Girl" and "The Steve Allen Show."

By 1973, during another period of upheaval for the entertainment industry, Shapiro and West headed off on their own as managers. The pair’s eye for talent ensured the company would be among the most prosperous of management-production firms. West died in December 2015 at the age of 84.

For Kaufman, Shapiro served as executive producer for the Showtime special "Andy Kaufman at Carnegie Hall" and ABC’s legendary "The Andy Kaufman Special." Other specials he assembled included Elayne Boosler’s "Broadway Baby" for Showtime, Seinfeld’s "Stand-Up Confidential" for HBO and the animated "The 2000 Year Old Man," with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner reprising their beloved buddy act, for HBO.

Shapiro was a driving force behind "Man On the Moon," the story of the troubled comedy genius who died tragically young in 1984 at age 35. In addition to serving as a key character in the Milos Forman-directed film, Shapiro also had a small role in the movie himself.

Shapiro also executive produced the 2001 documentary “Comedian,” chronicling Jerry Seinfeld’s return to standup after the end of “Seinfeld.” Other Shapiro film credits include 1985’s “Summer Rental,” starring John Candy and Rip Torn; and 1987’s “Summer School,” starring Mark Harmon and Kirstie Alley.

Shapiro was long a champion of projects about his native borough. He produced the 2003 documentary “The Bronx Boys,” about Shapiro and West’s cohort of friends from their elementary school days as P.S. 80. That was followed 10 years later by "The Bronx Boys Still Playing at 80" for PBS. In 2017, Shapiro, Reiner, Brooks and others were featured in the HBO documentary about elderly comedians "If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast."

Shapiro is survived by Melody Shapiro, his lifelong friend and mother of three children: son Danny Shapiro, daughters Carrie Shapiro Fuentes and Stefanie Shapiro. He is also survived by a brother, Don Shapiro, and five grandchildren: Adam Shapiro, Nathan Fuentes, Audrey Fuentes, Skylar Shapiro and Alana Shapiro.

A memorial service for Shapiro will be held at a later date. The family requests that donations be made to the Festivus Fund through the California Community Foundation.