Music ManMurray Gershenz

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An entrepreneur, Gershenz liked music — a lot. He bought his first record when he was 16, and it was the start of a massive collection. It really took off in the 1940s, when he worked as a waiter in New York nightclubs. He had never heard of jazz singer Billie Holliday until he was serving her in a club as she worked. “I was knocked out,” he said years later. “Here was this woman telling stories with this unbelievable voice. It changed the way I thought about music.” In all, he collected about 400,000 records, from classical to blues to rock, and in 1962 he opened a record store in Los Angeles, Music Man Murray. The store didn’t just have modern records: his stock included vintage wax cylinders for original Edison machines, Victrola platters, and more. Music greats then started coming to him to round out their own collections, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and B.B. King, hoping to find their own early recordings. Usually, Gershenz had what they were looking for.

When his bulging inventory and increasing big-city rents got to be too much for him, Gershenz took a second job so he could afford to keep the store open: he became an actor. His first gig was “Uncle Funny” on Will & Grace — when he was 79 years old. He was a natural for his character type, “loveable old man,” and he landed more and more roles, appearing in films like The Hangover, and TV shows as diverse as Parks and Rec, Mad Men, E.R., The Jay Leno Show, The Sarah Silverman Program, Jimmy Kimmel and House. It allowed him to keep the record store open until 2013, when it was sold to an unknown buyer: it took five 52-foot-long tractor trailers to haul everything away. Gershenz died August 28 from a heart attack. He was 91 — “cut down in his prime,” said his son, Irv.

From This is True for 1 September 2013