Merv Adelson, at 85; Hollywood film, TV producer

Merv Adelson and Barbara Walters were married from 1986 to 1992. “We stayed friends,” she said.
Associated Press/File 1986
Merv Adelson and Barbara Walters were married from 1986 to 1992. “We stayed friends,” she said.

NEW YORK — Merv Adelson, a real estate and resort developer who pivoted to become one of television’s most successful producers in a roller-coaster life involving the mob, the Teamsters’ pension fund, a marriage to Barbara Walters, and a huge fortune made and lost, died Sept. 8 in Los Angeles. He was 85.

The cause was complications of cancer, said Melanie Sese, a spokeswoman for Irwin Molasky, Adelson’s former business partner.

Mr. Adelson, a co-founder and former chairman of Lorimar, the once-prolific independent producer of television and movies, was known as a personable, big-thinking risk-taker, and a schmoozer who knew just about everybody.


His death elicited encomiums from many of the industry’s most powerful executives, among them Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS and a former Lorimar president.

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Moonves told The Hollywood Reporter that Mr. Adelson was “a wonderful boss and mentor” and “a very classy guy.”

Lorimar created some of television’s biggest hits of the 1970s and ’80s, including the family drama “The Waltons” and the family comedy “Eight Is Enough,” as well as the prime-time soap operas “Knots Landing” and “Dallas.” Mr. Adelson co-founded the company in 1969, seeking to distance himself from a career as a developer and, as he admitted long afterward, from his ties to gangsters that began during his years in Las Vegas.

There, in the early 1950s, when he was still in his 20s, Mr. Adelson built the city’s first 24-hour supermarkets. Later, with Molasky, he built hundreds of homes, a shopping mall, a country club and a hospital.

He also became a friend and something of a protégé of mobster Moe Dalitz, who helped Mr. Adelson and Molasky secure financing for the hospital, which opened in the late 1950s and is now called Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center.


Mervyn Lee Adelson was born in Los Angeles. (The 1930 census spelled his first name Mervin; in 1940, it was Mervyn, and so it is in later references.)

Mr. Adelson was married and divorced four times. Walters, the TV journalist whom he married in 1986 and divorced in 1992, was his third wife.

“Merv was a kind and gentle man,” she said. “We stayed friends long after our marriage.”