When none other than Kermit the Frog closed the two-hour tribute with a heartfelt rendition of “Rainbow Connection,” there wasn’t a peep in Royce Hall, other than sniffling and the rustling of tissues. The crowd for the event organized by Brad Grey and Lorne Michaels was large and high-powered, with virtually every major studio, talent agency, network represented, as well as an eclectic mix of top talent.
Royce Hall seats about 1,800 people, and it was packed all but for a few rows of the balcony so I’m guessing there were at least 1,200 or so who came out to salute the man variously described as a father figure, a trusted friend, a source of sage wisdom and “Santa Claus.” The outdoor reception in the quad afterward was elegant and full of conversation, including talk of pending deals and new clients and projects to pitch — the hum of a hopping showbiz party that no doubt would have made the honoree, who died Thursday at 77, very proud.
The Blues Brothers — Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd — even reunited for the occasion, pulling out the shades and skinny ties to romp through two numbers, “Messin’ with the Kid” and “Flip, Flop and Fly.” “That was for you, kid,” Aykroyd called out as they shimmied off the stage.
Most of the speakers noted Brillstein’s fondness for “kid” as a term of endearment, or as a conversation-starter.
“For the first time, I get to say, ‘Don’t let ’em get you, kid,” Grey said, with a catch in his voice, in closing his remarks.
Grey told an only-in-showbiz story about having to work fast over the weekend to secure a funeral and burial service at Hillside Memorial this past Sunday. When the mortuary informed the Brillstein family that they were overbooked for the day, Bernie’s widow, Carrie, reached out to Brad, who reached out to Lorne Michaels for advice, who suggested that Brad simply “bump someone.”
Brad’s first response was “I don’t think you can do that — these people are dead.” But he thought about it some more, made some calls and, amazingly, got it done.
“We apologize and thank the Cohen family of Encino, who will now be burying their beloved grandfather Sherman on Tuesday,” Grey explained.
Every speaker had a great Bernie story or two, and most had a great line, or two. To wit: