“Stay clear of the press.”
It’s no surprise that this was the first command among my brilliant friend Jerry Perenchio’s rules to live by, his Rules of the Road. Suffice it to say, he wasn’t a fan of the press, so perhaps it’s ironic that we all break that edict now in remembering him. His son, John, a successful entrepreneur himself (who shares his father’s reticence), and I remarked on this over the years.
But I hope he’ll forgive me, because a man of such stature, of such bold vision and generous spirit, deserves this acknowledgment. I knew him very well thanks to a friendship that spanned 45 years, yet it’s been comforting to read the remembrances of his unparalleled life these past few days.
Jerry — whom I always referred to as Mr. Perenchio — gave me my first job in entertainment at Tandem Prods., the company he ran with founders Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin. After several interviews (five, to be exact), apparently the fact that I knew nothing about Hollywood convinced him I’d be perfect for the job. I was too green to realize that I was landing among world-class individuals whose goodness matched how talented they were — people who were changing the face of our industry and even impacting our culture.
Needless to say, he had big expectations, and he was tough — you never got to disappoint him twice. But he was also completely grounded. He was a great keeper of confidences, and he never gossiped. He knew what mattered and what didn’t, and that’s why his final rule was “Always take the high road.” It never fails to get you to the right place. That advice, along with much more that I learned from Mr. Perenchio, has served me well in a town famous for its intrigue and its ups and downs. It’s difficult to articulate just how much he shaped me and the philosophies that have guided me throughout my career and my life — something I have tried, in turn, to pass on to others.
I often joked with him that he didn’t know how smart he was. No doubt you’re thinking, How could he not? But if he did, he never admitted it. He was extraordinarily humble. You’d sooner get blood from a stone than get Jerry Perenchio to talk about himself. Ultra-confident, courageous, decisive and blessed with supremely sharp instincts, but never self-involved, never arrogant, never petty. He always saw the big picture. “Worry about the big things,” he told me. His philanthropic work was remarkable — more so because he wouldn’t allow recognition for it.
These are the striking contrasts that define Jerry Perenchio. To have accomplished even one of his many game-changing achievements would be impressive work for a lifetime, yet he took them in stride, fastidiously avoiding the spotlight. He donated hundreds of millions of dollars yet took no credit. Although he was a deeply private person, he lived life large. His gorgeous Bel-Air estate is a sight to behold; one would never forget a party there, starting with the best caviar in the world and ending with a performance by the likes of Lady Gaga — not that you’d hear a whisper about it, of course.
All this amounts to one of the most amazing individuals I’ve ever had the privilege to know. Whether you knew him or not, or hadn’t even heard of him, he was a monumental presence. I loved him, and I’ll miss him deeply.
Thank you, Mr. Perenchio.
Alan Horn is chairman of Walt Disney Studios.