Colorful Canadian publicist Gino Empry died in Toronto on Oct. 14 of congestive heart failure following a stroke last summer. He is believed to have been in his early 80s.
Empry represented some of the biggest names in showbusiness in his more than 40 year career, including Tony Bennett, Bob Hope, Robert Goulet and Ella Fitzgerald. But he was also known as a champion of Canadian talent, including Gordon Pinsent, Celine Dion, Anne Murray, Karen Kain and William Hutt.
“It was impossible to be in our business without knowing him,” actress Shirley Douglas told the Toronto Star.
A Toronto boy beginning to end, Empry began as an actor, director and producer. In the mid-1960s he opened his own publicity firm, and in 1970 became entertainment director for the Royal York Hotel’s Imperial Room, at the time the hottest nightclub around. He also forged a long-lasting relationship with theater impresario Ed Mirvish.
Both positions had Empry rubbing shoulders as either booking agent, personal manager or publicist with countless celebrities, both in Canada and in the U.S. He is credited with bringing brash, New York-style show business to Toronto.
He loved to dish about the stars, and several years ago Mosaic Press published his memoirs, “I Belong to the Stars.”
He called Phyllis Diller, “A zany, badly dressed and made-up comic onstage but offstage the most regal woman I have ever met. I met her first when she had just had the famous $4,000 facelift and she was appearing at the O’Keefe Center. We became fast friends and when she left, she left a thank you letter with a $500 check in it telling me it was for a nose job!”
Of Frank Sinatra Jr., “He came to the Imperial Room to sing but most of his act was one liners! Why he was trying to be a singer like Pop (he wasn’t bad) when he was such a great comedian, I’ll never know. ”
Empry’s influence waned in recent years, but he attended every media and social event as long as his health permitted, always in a flamboyant outfit and his trademark high-rise quiff. He was also active in charities such as the Canadian Cancer Society and Famous People Players. In 1993 he received Toronto’s highest honor, The Award of Merit.
“He was an innovator as well as an impresario, and his role in the evolution of Toronto as a global cultural center will never be forgotten,” said Toronto mayor David Miller.