As head of Showtime boxing and special entertainment event programming, Jay Larkin was cast against type. He was neither a cold-blooded businessman nor a street-smart boxing wiseguy. As Larkin once explained to me, he was an aspiring actor who once waited tables and tended bar at the Ginger Man near Lincoln Center with the likes of Bruce Willis while they waited for their big break.
He eventually got into stage lighting, took a few left turns from there and somehow wound up at Showtime, where his effusive personality quickly catapulted him into a leading management role. Larkin built Showtime boxing and entertainment and had a wonderful 22-year run highlighted (and sometimes lowlighted) by his network's association with former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. His dismissal in 2006 was shocking to many in the boxing industry.
Far worse was the onset of brain cancer in 2007, and today, Larkin, 59, lost his battle with that disease. Frankly, Showtime Boxing hasn't been the same without Larkin, and he will be missed by all he touched in the sport, especially in the media. When I covered boxing on a regular basis in the 1980's and 90's, Larkin was a great friend to all in the media. With Larkin at Showtime and current promoter Lou DiBella at HBO Boxing, you couldn't ask for two better raconteurs and personalities to head up the boxing wars.
Larkin had the tougher job because HBO was the bully on the block, and Larkin forever was being called upon to put out various brushfires involving Tyson, promoter Don King and their entourage. But it was a job Larkin relished just as he did the competition with HBO.
The actual break that led to Larkin's ascension at Showtime is a great show-biz story. Larkin was attending a middleweight title bout between Hagler and John Mugabe in 1986 at Caesars Palace when Showtime executive Fred Schneier pointed to an old man standing near them and asked Larkin if he knew who that was. Having met former lightweight champion Billy Conn earlier that day, Larking provided the correct identification. That got him appointed head of Showtime boxing, though Larkin's talents were obvious to the network by then.
Certainly, Larkin earned the respect of all his peers. That is evident from the following statement issued today by Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports: "I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jay Larkin. Although Jay and I worked for different networks, we were truly colleagues. His commitment to his family and to boxing was truly admirable. I considered him a friend and enjoyed the times we spent together. He will be dearly missed.”
Besides Tyson, Larkin also provided a showcase for the talents of Evander Holyfield, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Julio Cesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad and many other top fighters. Larkin also produced pay-per-view concerts featuring Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Sting, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Sammy Davis Jr., Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, JAY-Z, The Spice Girls and the BackStreet Boys and comedy specials for Tim Allen, Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, Drew Carey, Dennis Leary and Dave Chappelle. He was especially proud of Showtime's production of the Tony Award-winning "Laugh Whore," starring Mario Cantone, because it took place at the Cort Theater on Broadway, which is where Larkin always hoped to succeed.
Larkin is survived by his wife, Lisa, and their two sons, Ryan and Gabriel. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made in Jay Larkin's name to the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, c/o Duke University Medical Center, DUMC Box 3624, Durham, N.C. 27710 or online at http://www.cancer.duke.edu/btc/. A funeral service is scheduled Wednesday in Elmont, N.Y.