Mr. Adams, 76, was an agent for the past 50 years, handling every aspect of the entertainment business including theatre, film and television, working with a broad array of actors, writers, directors and composers.
He partnered with Sanford Leigh in the 1950s and represented Tippi Hedren and Ellen Burstyn as they were beginning their careers. He opened his own agency in 1970 and opened an office in Los Angeles in the late 1970s.
Earlier in 2006, Mr. Adams sold the agency to his longtime partners Margi Rountree, Ken Melamed and Bruce Ostler, but he continued to personally represent a select group of favorite clients.
"Bret was a big presence. He was tough, but fair and compassionate," agency partner Bruce Ostler told Playbill.com. "He was honest to a fault. He was a good person have on your side. He loved his clients and very much believed in who he represented."
Mr. Adams was passionate about musical theatre and opera, and had a "golden ear" when considering musical performers, Ostler said. He loved scouting out work, and discovering new talent, whether at Tuesday auditions in his office or in far-flung summer stock productions he would attend. "He could hear a voice and say, 'Wow, I know what I can do with that voice,'" Ostler said. "Nothing made him happier than when he was going to see a client in a show, whether in New York or going out of town. He was excited to find a young composer who had a nice sound, or a young director who had great ideas…"
Mr. Adams was one of the last in a breed that handled composers, orchestrators, actors and directors and writers, his colleagues said.
Actress Judy Kaye was a longtime client until recently. Mr. Adams was instrumental in putting together the Broadway play with music, Souvenir. He repped its director Vivian Matalon and its playwright Stephen Temperley. The show earned Judy Kaye a 2006 Tony Award nomination.
"As far as I'm concerned, Souvenir would not have happened without Bret," Temperley told Playbill.com. "He was the first agent to ever take seriously my work as a writer. He was unflagging in his commitment and determination through some pretty rocky times with that play. I still can't believe that he's gone and can only say how grateful I am that he came into my life. My greatest regret is that [Souvenir] didn't happen sooner. He was as humorous and generous as a friend as he wast tough and scrupulous as an agent."
Ostler said Mr. Adams was a mentor to him when he was starting out, and that Mr. Adams would let agents in his office follow their own instincts. "He allowed us to develop our own style working with people," Ostler said.
As an agent, he was responsible for shepherding the careers of many actors, writers and directors and designers, including Judy Kaye, Phylicia Rashad, Sherman Helmsley, Valerie Perrine, Ron Holgate, Barbara Rush, Noel Harrison, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Eve Arden, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Christine Ebersole, Kathleen Marshall, Jayne Wyman, Andre DeShields, Kathy Bates, director Susan Schulman, playwrights Jack Heifner an Robert Harling and others.
Mr. Adams was born in Memphis, and attended military school in Tennessee. While still in his teens, he joined The Clare Tree Major Troupe and toured as an actor throughout northeast.
He served in the Army in Berlin — in the Special Services, serving as a Public Relations Officer — from 1950-52.
In the 1958 Mr. Adams produced, with Sanford Leigh and Jerry Leider, Ages of Man, an evening of sonnets and scenes with John Gielgud on Broadway. Gielgud earned a Special Tony Award that season for his work, and the show toured. Mr. Adams also produced a season of musicals in Sydney, Australia.
Mr. Adams is survived by his longtime partner of 46 years, Dr. Paul Reisch, their surrogate son Ananthony Rojas and his beloved golden retriever, Ollie.
Services will be held 5 PM Aug. 1 at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 180 West 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
The Bret Adams name will remain at the agency Mr. Adams founded, Ostler said.
"It's been around 50 years, it's a good name," he said.