Frank C. Ashby Jr., who cultivated a niche as a real estate appraiser to the stars, died Monday of Alzheimer's disease at a Las Vegas nursing home, said his daughter, Pamela Romano. He was 76.
Soon after Ashby established his Los Angeles appraisal company in 1965, Charlton Heston reportedly became his first celebrity client. Dozens of others followed, attracted by the wide variety of appraisal services -- and Ashby's ability to stay mum about the abodes of the rich and famous that he scrutinized.
"What made him so popular with the stars is that not only did he do home appraisals, if they wanted their paintings or jewelry appraised, he would arrange for that too. It was appraisal for all purposes. He started doing that when nobody else did," said Ellen Galeski, who has run what is now called Appraisals by Ashby since the founder retired in 1995.
Although he wouldn't discuss specifics, Ashby would confirm the latest entries to his personal "Who's Who" of Hollywood home trading.
In one stretch in 1987, he appraised the Hollywood Hills home of actress Jane Seymour before she handed it off to Cheryl Tiegs. He had been to Bel-Air to assess the separate dwellings of Joni Mitchell and Mac Davis. In Malibu, he'd ventured inside the residences of both Olivia Newton-John and Neil Diamond.
The businessman who trod and took notes where celebrities slept said he couldn't completely account for why his company went so Hollywood. He did think the number of services and emphasis on confidentiality had played a part, Ashby told The Times in 1987.
Others attributed his success to a colorful personality that led him to forge friendships with stars. After Ashby's daughter told him that the one celebrity she wanted to meet was Troy Donahue, the teen idol attended an Ashby party.
Frank Charles Ashby Jr. was born in 1932 in Dallas and grew up in Midland, Texas. His father was an oil attorney.
After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1958, Ashby headed west. Within a few years, he specialized in appraising houses that were at least 6,000 square feet.
For more than 30 years, Ashby had been a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous and often appeared as a motivational speaker at the organization's seminars around the world, his daughter said.
On his car, Ashby's license plate declared his philosophy about business and life. It said, "U NVR QWT."
Ashby had been divorced three times.
In addition to his daughter, Pamela Romano of Las Vegas, Ashby is survived by his mother, Catheryn Ashby, 102, and sister, Ann Gett, both of Midland, Texas; a son, Frank C. Ashby III of Austin, Texas; and six grandchildren.
Memorial donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Assn., www.alz.org.