ROBERT L. STONE, 87
Hired O.J. Simpson as Hertz pitchman
Robert L. Stone, a former top executive at Hertz who had hired O.J. Simpson in the 1970s as a pitchman for the car rental giant, died Wednesday of heart failure at his home in Boca Grande, Fla., his wife, Sheila Muldowny Stone, said.
Mr. Stone became the chairman and chief executive of Hertz in 1972, when the company was a subsidiary of the RCA Corp. It is now known as Hertz Global Holdings Inc.
It was Mr. Stone's decision to hire Simpson as the spokesman for Hertz in a series of popular television commercials, his wife said. At the time, Simpson was a national sports hero. The ads featured the Hall of Fame football star leaping over airport railings.
An avid sportsman himself, Mr. Stone wanted an athlete to represent Hertz, according to his wife.
"He was tired of watching commercials with actors who didn't do anything but talk," she said.
Simpson, she said, "was fabulous at that particular moment in time. He was a different O.J."
Under Mr. Stone's leadership at Hertz, the company's revenue increased from $21 million in 1972 to $200 million by 1978.
Mr. Stone left Hertz in 1978 to become the chief operating officer for Columbia Pictures. He retired in 1983, but he continued to serve as a consultant. In 1980, Fortune magazine named him one of the 10 toughest bosses to work for.
Mr. Stone was born in New York City and left Williams College to enlist in the Air Force in 1942. He flew 40 combat missions in the Pacific as a bombardier. He received both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.
Mr. Stone came to Hertz from NBC, where he had been general manager of the television network and president of the network's radio division. He previously worked as the vice president and general manager of the ABC affiliate in New York City.
Mr. Stone is survived by his wife, four children and two stepchildren. His first wife, the former Mary Elizabeth Lee, died in 1966.