December 06, 1999 12:00 PM

Jay Moloney was such a child of showbiz that Burt Ward—Robin on the ’60s TV version of Batman—entertained at one of his childhood birthday parties. Moloney was barely old enough to drink when he was crowned the boy wonder of Hollywood agents, the guys (and mostly they are guys) who hustle up work—and towering paychecks—for their clients. He dated actresses Jennifer Grey and Gina Gershon, had such clients as Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Bill Murray—and battled personal demons, disappearing for days and, once, crashing a BMW into two parked cars, totaling all three. Moloney was a slave to cocaine. “He loved and was loved by so many people,” recalls his friend Tom Lassally, a former movie exec at Warner Bros., “but he didn’t feel lovable.”

Nor, by the end, did he feel that life was livable. Friends had been dreading the news that finally came on Nov. 16, two days after Moloney’s 35th birthday, when he hanged himself from a shower nozzle, with a belt, in his Hollywood Hills home. Moloney, who helped Creative Artists Agency snag clients David Letterman and Brazil director Terry Gilliam, spent several years checking in and out of rehab clinics. “The demons rose up and took hold of his life,” says producer Peter Guber. Adds Lassally: “He went from being this bigger-than-life character to just a very scared person.” Three days after Moloney’s suicide, nearly 1,000 guests, including Dustin Hoffman and Gershon, gathered for a memorial service held in a movie theater on the Paramount Pictures lot. Murray delivered one eulogy, and Lassally told the A-listers, “Wherever Jay is right now, he’s looking down at us and happy with the turnout.”

Moloney’s friends wondered whether such an ending had been scripted from birth. His father, Jim Moloney, a Hollywood screenwriter (The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu) and agent, was an alcoholic. Moloney grew up in Southern California but moved to Newport, Ore., at 14 with his mom, Carole. At Newport High, Moloney was already everybody’s buddy but his own. Guidance counselor Carolyn Brown, who recalls Moloney as the leader of a gang of rascals called the Octagon, says he enjoyed “being on the cutting edge of defiance.” Nevertheless, Brown says, “I don’t think he thought he was well thought of. I felt he was on a self-destructive path.” Roger Phillips, 35, an Octagon alum who now reports for a small Idaho paper, recalls, “Jay was the type of guy who could come over to your house, eat all of your food, drink all of your beer and then take five bucks, and you would say, ‘Wasn’t he a great guy?’ ”

The backslapping made him a natural at schmoozing’s world headquarters, Hollywood. As a USC student with an internship at Creative Artists Agency, which represents many of moviedom’s biggest stars, he was a hit, and in 1984, at age 20, Moloney dropped out of college. He soon was tapped to be the right-hand man to then-CAA chief Michael Ovitz. Through Ovitz, Moloney landed such clients as Hoffman and Uma Thurman. “He always made me feel he was thinking of me first,” says another client, superstar screenwriter Ron Bass (Rain Man). “He was just a guy you always wanted to be around.”

Moloney made millions, filling his house with Picassos and Warhols, but in close succession he lost his father (to Parkinson’s disease, in March 1994) and his father figure (an increasingly distant Ovitz left CAA the following year). Moloney tried cocaine and quickly got hooked. Friends staged repeated interventions, but drugs finally cost Moloney his CAA job in 1996. The ex-wonder boy did some soul-searching on an Israeli kibbutz and in the Caribbean, where he picked bananas for a while. Last January, at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kans., fellow patients found him in his hotel bathtub with his wrists and throat slashed. “It’s a very self-hating way to [kill yourself],” says one of them. Moloney barely survived.

His friends still backed him, though, and last April, Moloney took a job working for a music video and commercial company, Paradise Music & Entertainment, run by Bob Dylan’s son Jesse. But Moloney couldn’t stay clean, and he was released from his contract in September. Three days before he died, Lassally met him for coffee and found that “he looked defeated, like he’d lost the will to fight.” After his earlier suicide attempt, the rehab patient who found Moloney told him, “You’re going to run out of your nine lives pretty soon.” Moloney, she says, just looked back at her and said, “You’re right.”

Kyle Smith

Lyndon Stambler and Michael Fleeman in Los Angeles and Alexandra Hardy in Newport