Norby Walters, a booking agent for some of the country’s top disco, R&B, funk and hip-hop artists, who in the 1980s took the aggressive leap of signing college athletes to secret contracts before they turned professional, which led to legal Problems arose, and he died on 10 December. Burbank, California. He was 91 years old.
His son Gary confirmed his death at an assisted living facility.
Mr. Walters got his foot in the door in show business through ownership of restaurants, pizzerias, mambo joints and nightclubs, including Norby Walters’ Supper Club on the East Side of Manhattan near the Copacabana, which he opened in 1966.
Two years later he walked away from the club business after two mobsters shot and killed a customer at the supper club in front of about 50 people.
“Everyone got on the floor,” Mr. Walters told The New York Times in 2016. And this guy was very cool about it. He sat down at the bar, put the pistol down and waited to be picked up.
Mr Walters closed the club soon afterwards.
He began booking concerts in nightclubs, lounges and hotels, which proved lucrative. Over the next two decades, the client list of Norby Walters Associates (later called General Talent International) included Gloria Gaynor, Dionne Warwick, Patti LaBelle, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Commodores, Luther Vandross, The Four Tops, Run-DMC, Kool And were included. The Gang, Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Walters caught a glimpse of a new opportunity in the top tier of college football players. With his partner Lloyd Bloom, he founded World Sports and Entertainment. According to the 1988 federal indictment against them, from 1984 to 1987, both men signed secret contracts with dozens of athletes in exchange for giving their agency exclusive rights to handle their future negotiations with NFL teams. Inducements like loan and car were included.
Most of the inducements violated National Collegiate Athletic Association rules and would have rendered athletes ineligible to compete if their schools had known about them. But Mr. Walters and Mr. Bloom said their lawyers had assured them that the contracts were valid, even if the players were still with their college teams.
The indictment accused Mr. Walters and Mr. Bloom of conspiring with athletes to hide payments so they could agree to postdated contracts that appeared to be signed after their final collegiate games.
“The crime alleged was that he conspired with students to steal their education, which was absurd because the schools had no concern whether they would get an education or not,” Gary Walters said in a phone interview. He further said, “Norby was not doing anything different in the sports business than in the music business: giving fair compensation to players who had been deprived of it.”
The government also alleged that the contracts were backed by threats of violence, some of which included mobster Michael Franzi, a member of the Colombo crime family. When most of the athletes decided they no longer wanted Mr. Walters and Mr. Bloom to represent them, but kept the cars and money, the indictment accused them of threatening to break their legs and causing physical harm to their families. charged off.
Gary Walters said his father denied threatening anyone and also denied that Mr. Franzese had any involvement in his sports business.
Mr. Walters and Mr. Bloom were convicted of mail fraud and racketeering in 1989. Mr. Walters was sentenced to five years in prison and Mr. Bloom was sentenced to three years, but neither served a day in prison.
An appeals court overturned the fraud conviction in 1990, ruling that the trial judge had not instructed the jury that the two men’s actions were guided by advice from their attorneys that the signatures were legal.
In 1993, the mail fraud conviction was also overturned.
“Walters is, by all accounts, an evil and untrustworthy person,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in a 1993 decision, “But the prosecutor did not prove that his efforts to circumvent NCAA rules amounted to mail fraud.”
Mr. Bloom was shot to death at his home in Malibu, California, later that year.
By then, Mr. Walters had retired from his music and sports business, which had been damaged by the federal investigation, and reinvented himself as a host of celebrity parties and poker games.
Norbert Mayer was born on April 20, 1932 in Brooklyn. His father, Yosele Czecznowicz, was a Polish immigrant who served in the army during World War I (where he changed his name to Joseph Mayer) and later became a diamond courier and a nightclub owner in Brooklyn and Became the owner of a side show attraction at Coney Island. His mother, Florence (Golub) Meyer, was a housewife.
“I traveled all over the country with my father’s unique show,” Mr. Walters told The Daily News of New York in 1987. “It was all a scam. There was no devil, the crocodile boy was a poor man with a very bad skin condition, the bodyless girl was dressed in glass, the turtle girl was a dwarf in a dress.
Norby studied business at Brooklyn College from 1950 to 1951 and served in the Army until 1953. He and his brother, Walter, took over their father’s club that year and renamed it Norby & Walter Bel Air.
On opening night, when Norby greeted customers by saying, “Hello, I’m Norby,” some responded by asking, “Oh, are you Norby Walters?” When the brothers went out, they noticed that the neon sign outside the club was missing the required ampersand. It said, “Norby Walters Bel Air Club.”
“I’ve been Norby Walters ever since,” he told The Atlanta Constitution in 1987. “My brother hated me for it.” His brother, known as Walter B. Walters, died in 2004.
Norby Walters carried the name – which he eventually legally changed – through his restaurant, club, music and sports careers and into its final chapter.
From 1990 to 2017, he hosted an annual Oscars viewing party at the Beverly Hills Hotel Ballroom, which he called Night of 100 Stars. It attracted stars such as Jon Voight, Shirley Jones, Charles Bronson, Eva Marie Saint and Martin Landau. He was also the host of a regular poker party at his condo in Southern California, where regulars included Milton Berle, Bryan Cranston, Richard Lewis, Jason Alexander, James Woods, Charles Durning, Mimi Rogers, and Alex Trebek.
“It was $2 a hand,” actor and comedian Robert Wuhl said over the phone. “So the most anyone won was $250 and the most anyone won was $300 to $400. It was all about kibitzing. Buddy Hackett will be coming to Kibbitz.”
The Oscar party was not as hot a ticket as the one hosted by Vanity Fair magazine or Elton John, but it was more accessible. In 2016, for $1,000 per seat or $25,000 for a VIP table package, a citizen without show business credentials could be admitted and hang out with the celebrities.
In addition to his son, Gary, Mr. Walters is survived by two other sons, Steven and Richard. His wife, Irene (Solovitz) Walters, died in 2022.
Nearly 30 years after retiring because of his legal problems, Mr. Walters said he understands his place among the Hollywood giants.
“As I always say to my wife,” he told The Times a few days before his final Oscar party in 2016, “‘I used to be important.’”