David Geffen

This article was originally published in September 1994.

His office on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood is tastefully furnished with white couches, a vase filled with tulips and, appropriately, many telephones. Using one, David Geffen tells a secretary to hold his calls, “except,” he says, “anybody calling back about tomorrow night.”

During the next three hours, he hears from a number of the most powerful people in the entertainment industry: Michael Ovitz, Lew Wasserman, Steven Spielberg, Barry Diller, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ted Field, Mo Ostin.

After talking business or chatting about families, Geffen informs each caller of a meeting the following night. “The president will be passing through,” he says. “He would like to get together with a small group of us.”

It’s no surprise that Geffen is Bill Clinton’s point man for the evening. In the past three decades, Geffen has become one of the entertainment world’s most influential—and wealthiest—men, a Hollywood business genius who has created and run two highly profitable record companies, has made a series of successful films and has backed a host of hit Broadway plays. He is also a political heavyweight and perhaps the most powerful openly gay man in America.

Geffen has never written a song or a screenplay, but he has an unerring ability to spot talent in others, and he helps them use their talents to the fullest. Few agents have forged creative partnerships the way Geffen has, and fewer still have moved from agent to mogul with such ease.

As a movie producer, Geffen is behind such films as “Risky Business,” “Beetlejuice,” “The Last Boy Scout,” “Defending Your Life,” “After Hours,” “Lost in America,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Personal Best.” The plays he has helped produce include “Cats,” “Dreamgirls,” “Miss Saigon” and “M. Butterfly,” which was also made into a Geffen film.

But Geffen’s influence has been most felt in the music business. In 1970 he formed Asylum Records, which quickly became one of the most successful record labels in the industry. The California rock sound of that era featured such Asylum artists as Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther and the Eagles (the top-selling band for several years). Geffen now runs Geffen Records, which has turned out to be even more successful. With an artist roster that includes Guns n’ Roses, Nirvana, Don Henley, Peter Gabriel and Aerosmith, Geffen Records had sales last year of $400 million.

At the age of 18, Geffen worked as an usher at CBS Studios. He landed a job in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency two years later, earning $55 a week. Within five years he was an agent making $2 million.

From initial clients such as the Association and Joni Mitchell, he came to represent many of the stars who would define a generation of music: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Janis Joplin, James Taylor, Bob Dylan. But Geffen was more than an agent and manager—he became a driving force in his own right within the music world. Joni Mitchell based her song “Free Man in Paris” on Geffen and his life.

In 1990 he sold his company to MCA, the entertainment conglomerate that owns Universal Pictures. His take was 10 million shares of MCA stock. When MCA was acquired by Matsushita, Geffen’s stock was suddenly worth more than $700 million. The year he cashed it in, he reportedly paid more taxes than any other American. He still serves as his company’s chairman and earns a salary of $600,000 a year, which he donates to his foundation, a charitable organization that gives away millions annually.

As his bank accounts grew (he is now reportedly worth more than $1.2 billion), Geffen was nearly as visible as the stars he backed. He had a torrid romance with Cher—which began while she was still doing “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour”—and he later dated Marlo Thomas. By 1980, however, he had come to terms with his homosexuality, and by 1992 he had become one of the most important forces in the gay rights movement. At an AIDS Project benefit in Los Angeles, he and Barbra Streisand were honored for their contributions. “The Advocate,” the nation’s leading gay publication, named him Man of the Year. When President Clinton was forming a policy regarding gays in the military, Geffen was a strong voice against a ban. He lobbied Washington and took out full-page ads in newspapers.

Geffen in known to be a tough but generous boss. A loyal secretary retired and reportedly received a check for $5 million. Geffen treats himself well, too. He purchased, for $47.5 million, the Beverly Hills Georgian mansion that once belonged to Jack Warner of Warner Bros. He flies around the world in a $20 million Gulfstream IV jet that is decked out like a hotel suite, and he owns a beach house in Malibu and an apartment in New York. He also has a museum-worthy collection of paintings by such artists as David Hockney, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

In a city known for its rich and powerful people, Geffen is about the richest and most powerful person in town. Contributing Editor David Sheff, who last interviewed the Who’s Pete Townshend, met with Geffen. He reports:

“There was a lot going on around Geffen when we met up at Geffen Records in Hollywood. His label had just launched the latest Guns n’ Roses LP, and there was a controversy because the album included a song written by Charles Manson. More Geffen records were coming from such heavyweights as Nirvana, the reunited Eagles and Peter Gabriel. His movie company, meanwhile, had announced ‘Beavis & Butt-head’ and ‘Barney’ movies. It had begun ‘Interview With the Vampire,’ directed by Neil Jordan. Fans of Anne Rice’s novels were protesting the choice of Tom Cruise to play the main character, the vampire Lestat. And the death of River Phoenix had caused a last-minute cast change, with Christian Slater taking over Phoenix’s role as the interviewer. The was also disarray because of a renovation in progress, and movers were attempting to force a large desk around a tight stairway corner.

“Nonetheless, Geffen was affable and relaxed. In his blue shirt, khaki pants and sneakers, he comes across as youthful and mischievous. A reporter once described him ‘in cap and T-shirt, padding around his mansion like some mid-life version of Kevin in “Home Alone.”’

“Despite his laid-back demeanor, I found Geffen to be candid, direct and fearless. Of course, anyone who makes $700 million in one business deal cannot be easily intimidated, even by the toughest questions.”

Playboy: Is it true that one must be extremely tough, even ruthless, to make it in Hollywood?

Geffen: People who are fools don’t get to be successful, and they don’t get to be successful if they are worried about their popularity.

Playboy: A Hollywood executive said that you will do anything for your friends but, as he put it, “If you are his enemy you might as well kill yourself.” True?

Geffen: If you’re successful, people talk about you. There’s nothing you can do about it. People make up stories. At the end of Liberty Valance, it says something like, “When the legend is bigger than the man, print the legend.” The bullshit is more interesting than the truth.

Playboy: But do you go after people? The executive who said that claims he lost his job because of you.

Geffen: I had nothing to do with his losing his job. The fact is I got him that job.

Playboy: The implication is that you get revenge.

Geffen: My mother used to tell me when I was a kid, “You never have to get revenge. All you have to do is live long enough.”

Playboy: So is show business just another business?

Geffen: It’s more interesting—to me. But somebody else might think it’s just another business.

Playboy: Isn’t there more of a microscope on show business than on others?

Geffen: There has always been a tremendous obsession with television and movie stars, and with the people involved with the business.

Playboy: Is that attention a burden?

Geffen: I don’t view it as good or bad. To complain about it would be silly.

Playboy: How accurate is media coverage of Hollywood?

Geffen: The reporters who cover this business for the big papers and magazines are often inaccurate. The gossip columnists print lies, misinformation, innuendos, untruths and half-truths that are irresponsible and mean-spirited.

Playboy: Recently it was reported that you tried to stop the publication of Obsession, the tell-all biography of your friend Calvin Klein, by offering the publisher $5 million. Is that accurate?

Geffen: They said I did it because I am such a loyal friend. Well, I’m not that good a friend. [laughs]

Playboy: So it’s untrue?

Geffen: It’s such a hilarious charge. I wouldn’t offer $5 million to stop a book about me! It’s absurd. People will do anything for attention.

Playboy: Who exactly?

Geffen: The writer, Steven Gaines, spread that rumor to get publicity for the book, which is an utter and complete piece of shit. The fact that anyone would take it seriously is astounding to me. I was accused by this jerk of getting Putnam not to publish the book. Well, Putnam likely dropped the book because a high-class publisher would not want to market this kind of crap. For the record, however, I have never met or spoken to the publisher and I have never made any effort to influence her one way or another—and could not have if I had tried.

Playboy: The press also had a field day with your latest movie, Interview With the Vampire. What drew you to this project?

Geffen: I loved the book, and I thought a wonderful movie could be made from it. I got Neil Jordan, director ofThe Crying Game, to write a script, which is absolutely extraordinary. I’m very excited about this one.

Playboy: Do you agree that Tom Cruise is an odd choice to play the vampire Lestat?

Geffen: It’s a different kind of character than he’s chosen to play in the past, but he’s an extraordinary actor and is capable of playing all kinds of parts. And I don’t give a shit that some people don’t like the idea.

Playboy: The people who are most upset are the diehard fans of the Lestat books—and Anne Rice.

Geffen: I get all these letters from people in Anne Rice’s fan clubs who are unhappy about Cruise playing Lestat. They wanted Julian Sands. But the director casts the movie, not the fans.

Playboy: Rice wanted Sands, too. Do you feel bad that the creator of a work is unhappy with what you are doing?

Geffen: I don’t feel bad about it at all. People were outraged when Vivien Leigh was cast in the role of Scarlett O’Hara. Today it is unthinkable that anybody else could have played it. The fact that someone writes a good book doesn’t mean their ideas for the movie are good. Margaret Mitchell had nothing to do with the movie version of Gone With the Wind, or Hemingway with that of For Whom the Bell Tolls. They sold the rights. That’s the way it works. And all the worry about Tom in this part will disappear when people see the movie. He is astounding. I guess all the criticism inspired him to do his best work.

Playboy: When you hired David Cronenberg to direct M. Butterfly, you said you would leave him alone until the film was completed—

Geffen: And I did.

Playboy: Isn’t that risky?

Geffen: Very. However, I’m a great believer in David Cronenberg, and I was happy with the movie. I would have made different choices, particularly in casting John Lone as Song Liling. He was not believable as a woman, and the audience had difficulty believing that Jeremy Iron’s character could be fooled. But I had faith in Cronenberg—win, lose or draw.

Playboy: If you disagreed with a director, would you override his decision?

Geffen: It depends on the circumstances. I would actively campaign for my view, but in the end I would prefer to let a director make the movie that he wanted to make.

Playboy: Didn’t you fire the director of Personal Best, Bob Towne, because you didn’t like the way the movie was going?

Geffen: No. I closed down the movie because it was going wildly over budget, and he was out of control at that time. In the end, though, he finished the movie. There have been times when I’ve become more involved in the content of movies. I changed the end of Risky Business. In the original script, Tom Cruise’s character, Joel Goodson, did not get into Princeton. I made them change that. I believed that if you got Princeton’s admissions director laid, you’d get into Princeton. Also, I thought the audience would want that, so we changed it. It’s a process. Sometimes you disagree and sometimes you find yourself unable not to get involved. But I don’t aspire to be involved in the process other than when I put it together and then, perhaps, at the end, during editing.

Playboy: Have you become better about knowing which of your movies will be hits?

Geffen: I’m always amazed. When we made Risky Business, Warner Bros. didn’t think much of the film and decided not even to open it at some of the best theaters. Cujo, which it released the same day, got all the best theaters because it was thought it had a better chance of being successful. And Risky Business ended up being a classic of the Eighties and made Tom Cruise a star. Beetlejuice was also enormously successful, but we had no idea it would be. The movie was completed, and the director, Tim Burton, and I sat in the screening room and looked at each other and shook our heads. We thought that we had gotten away with something we liked very much but which was pretty wild. We were working on the movie right until the end. We had to invent a whole new beginning and a whole new end.

Playboy: What was the problem?

Geffen: Nothing much, other than the fact that the story didn’t make sense. So we fixed it up and held our breaths and put it out. I didn’t even stick around for the opening. It opened on Easter weekend, and I took off—I went on a boat trip Steve Ross [former chairman of Time Warner] to the Caribbean. We called in and were told it was the biggest Easter opening in the history of the movie business. We were stunned. It went on to gross an enormous amount of money.

Playboy: Do your movies reflect your taste?

Geffen: In a way. I try to choose things that will make interesting movies that won’t lose money. I don’t even say that a movie has to make money, but the bottom line is that it has to at least break even. I don’t want to be responsible for failure.

Playboy: Do you have to believe in a movie to make it?

Geffen: Yes.

Playboy: Are there exceptions?

Geffen: The Last Boy Scout. I’m kind of embarrassed to have my name on that one because of the violence and bad taste. It’s not the type of movie I want to make.

Playboy: Then why did you make it?

Geffen: Someone who once worked here believed in it. And, although it’s not my kind of movie, it did make money. Because of it, I was able to give away about $2 million to charities, which is probably the best thing about The Last Boy Scout.

Playboy: Would you make a movie that would probably lose money if you felt strongly about it?

Geffen: No, because it doesn’t affect just me. I don’t want the people at Warner Bros., who finance my movies, to be in trouble because of some decision I’ve made. So far I’ve given them excellent films, and even the ones that haven’t been very successful haven’t lost a lot of money.

Playboy: How did you get into the theater business?

Geffen: At the invitation of Michael Bennett, who was a close friend. At the time he was putting together a workshop of a show that he called Big Dreams, which we changed to Dreamgirls. That got me started. I had a lot of fun and I loved working with Michael, who was one of the most talented people I’ve ever met.

Playboy: What are the major differences between the theater, record and movie businesses?

Geffen: There are a zillion differences. There’s very little that’s similar. The music business is by far the most progressive because it costs less money to make a record.

Playboy: Why does that make it more progressive?

Geffen: Because artists who are just starting their careers get to make records, and there’s much more room for experimentation. Movies cost millions of dollars to make and to market, so fewer people get a chance to do them. As many records get put out by the industry in a month or a week as movies get made in a year. If we put out a record and it doesn’t do well, no one gets fired. But if you make a movie for $40 million or more and it fails, people lose their jobs.

Playboy: Is the record company your greatest passion?

Geffen: It takes up most of my time, but at any given moment I’m passionate about whatever project I’m working on. My mother taught me to love my work.

Playboy: Was she the one who trained you for business?

Geffen: I learned everything about business from her. I watched her sell, work with suppliers, do the books, pay the bills, make the deals. She enabled me to have a successful life because of it. She started a business sewing undergarments in our house and then moved it into a small shop. We used to go there to eat lunch and dinner, because she was working all the time—we almost lived at the shop.

Playboy: Did you always have enough money?

Geffen: We had enough to eat and be clothed, but we didn’t have much money. I was never able to have clothes that fit me. They were always bigger, so I could grow into them. Since I was quite small and thin, I often looked ridiculous.

Playboy: What did your father do?

Geffen: He almost never worked, which is why my mother took the responsibility of supporting the family. She didn’t want to be on welfare.

Playboy: Why didn’t he work?

Geffen: It’s not that he didn’t want to work; he wasn’t successful at it. He couldn’t seem to keep a job, and he wasn’t highly motivated. He liked to read, and he read in many languages. He was kind of an intellectual and eccentric, maybe a little lazy. He died when I was 18.

Playboy: Were your mother and father immigrants?

Geffen: She was from Russia and he was from Poland, but they met in Palestine. When he was young my father worked as a telegraph operator, saved money and went on a world tour. He met my mother, who had made her way to Palestine after the Russian Revolution. She had fled and never again saw her family except for a sister who, years later, wrote to my mother about what had happened to the rest of her family. It gave my mother a nervous breakdown and she was institutionalized for about six months.

Playboy: Was her family killed in the Holocaust?

Geffen: Not exactly. They lived in the Ukraine, and as the Nazis were crossing into Russia from Europe, the Ukrainians went on a rampage in the town where my mother’s family lived. They killed all the Jews they could get their hands on before the Nazis arrived. My mother’s sister survived because she wasn’t home and my mother because she had already left for America.

Playboy: How old were you when your mother had the nervous breakdown?

Geffen: I was six, and the whole episode was confusing and terrifying for me. We went from having a mother who ran her own business to having a mother who was in a hospital where we visited her. It was embarrassing because all my friends thought she was crazy. It was frightening because her business shut down, but when she got out six months later, she went to work and eventually everything got back to normal.

Playboy: Did she resent your father?

Geffen: I’m not sure. But my brother and I were disappointed in him. We blamed him for all the things we couldn’t have and all the things we thought he should be doing. But in the end he did the best he could, I’m sure.

Playboy: Were there fun times, too?

Geffen: I went to the movies a lot, which was magic for me. I remember seeing Singin’ in the Rain over and over again one day. My mother called the police because I didn’t come home, but I was mesmerized by it. I guess it was a sign of what was to come.

Playboy: According to your yearbook, you were going to be a dentist.

Geffen: You had to say you were going to be something, and my mother would have liked me to be a dentist, a doctor or a lawyer. But there was no chance. I was a lousy student. I went on to flunk out of two colleges before I got my first job in show business, as an usher at CBS. I began ushering for The Judy Garland Show, The Danny Kaye Show and The Red Skelton Show. I loved it. I thought, I would pay them to be able to watch this stuff.

Playboy: So you decided that show business was for you?

Geffen: Well, I was a poor kid from Brooklyn with no talent. It never occurred to me that I could be in show business. But I looked for other jobs on the periphery of show business. I worked as a receptionist at a production company and then got a job in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency. Instantly I knew I was in the right place.

Playboy: How did you know?

Geffen: As I delivered the mail, I listened to the people in the offices talking on the phone, making deals. I thought, like that song in A Chorus Line, “I can do that.” They just bullshitted on the phone. When I went to the doctor or the dentist, it never occurred to me that I could be a doctor or a dentist. I knew I couldn’t. I knew I wasn’t smart or studious or dedicated enough. But I could be an agent. I knew it in a day. And getting there became the most important thing in my life.

Playboy: Is the story that you lied on your application to William Morris true?

Geffen: Yeah. Thirty-one years ago I lied. I said I had graduated from UCLA, because a college degree was a requirement for the job. I’d been there a week and was excited about the possibilities for my life for the first time, and another guy in the mailroom was fired. When I asked him what happened, he said that he had lied on his application about going to college. I got sick to my stomach. From that day on, I got in early every morning and went through every single piece of mail that came into the agency, looking for the letter from UCLA saying they had never heard of me. I told that story to The New York Times for the 87th time, and all these people wrote letters to the editor that said my career is based on a fraud. Some people just don’t get it. If a lie alone would make a career, everyone would do it.

Playboy: It’s odd that you need a college degree to work in the mailroom in the fist place.

Geffen: It’s obviously silly. Here I am, one of the most successful graduates of the William Morris Agency.

Playboy: How does one climb from mailroom clerk to agent at William Morris?

Geffen: You do just that; you climb the ladder. A job opened and I went for it. I was a secretary to one of the agents, typing and taking dictation. Then I became an assistant to another agent. I quickly figured out that the way to be most successful was to be a signer, a person who brought talent into the agency. So, almost immediately, I went out and started signing people.

Playboy: How do you do that if you’re not yet an agent

Geffen: You recognize the talent, then try to convince them that they want you, and then you have to convince the people at the agency that they want the artists. You have to be realistic. You’re certainly not going to be able to go after a major star when you’re 21 years old. I went after people who were brand-new and who I thought were talented.

Playboy: Did you find anyone who became a major star?

Geffen: By the time I became an agent, I had signed Jesse Colin Young, Joni Mitchell and the Association, which was big at that time because of Windy. It was the biggest act I brought to the agency at that point. We used to go to clubs every night, the Cafe a Go-Go and the Bitter End. In those days, you could find the Lovin’ Spoonful at one club and Bill Cosby at another, Bob Dylan hanging out in the Village and Joni Mitchell at a coffeehouse.

Playboy: Were you blown away by these artists?

Geffen: Completely. When I look back on that period, from 1965 to 1975, I was working with the people I mentioned, plus Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Eagles, Laura Nyro, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Janis Joplin, James Taylor—so many. It was very exciting. I couldn’t believe the life I had. I couldn’t believe the people I was talking with on the telephone.

Playboy: As those artists emerged, did you have a sense you were involved in a completely new kind of entertainment?

Geffen: Not at the time. I was just working, frankly. But I can remember when I had Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles and Stephen Stills in my apartment in the Sixties. In my apartment. I couldn’t believe it. Another time Jackson Browne, Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell were in my living room. The day Martin Luther King was killed, I was in a limousine with Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro, going to Joni’s concert at Bryn Mawr. She was the opening act. People were spitting at the limousine and there was rioting in the streets. It was scary.

Playboy: You were the free man in Paris Joni Mitchell wrote about. How do you feel about that song?

Geffen: It’s a great song, but at the time she wrote it, I was embarrassed by it. I didn’t want her to record it because it seemed like an invasion of privacy. It was so personal and revealing.

Playboy: Were you a free man in Paris? What did that mean?

Geffen: Joni and I went to Paris with Robbie Robertson [of the Band] and his wife. Joni saw something that I didn’t see. She heard me saying that I’d had enough of all this. I was getting to the point where I had had it with all the deals and the people. I was ODing on the music business. I was ODing on pop stars. I just couldn’t take much more of it. Now, when I listen to the song, I realize how prescient she was. I didn’t see it until much later.

Playboy: When some of the artists that you discovered became stars, were you proud?

Geffen: Oh, God. Yeah. I remember when I went to see Crosby, Stills and Nash do their first concert. It was at the Greek Theater. Joni Mitchell was their opening act. From there they were flying to Woodstock, which was going to be their third gig. Yeah, it was incredible that I was part of it in some way. Joni Mitchell wroteWoodstock in my apartment. I was there when she wrote it.

Playboy: Did you go to Woodstock?

Geffen: No. When we got to La Guardia Airport and read in the Times that 400,000 people were there, sitting in mud, I said to Joni, “Forget it. Let’s not go.” We went to my apartment, and while we were there she wroteWoodstock.

Playboy: Had you made your first million dollars by then?

Geffen: I’d made $2 million. As Laura Nyro’s manager, I owned half of her publishing rights and I sold her catalog for $4 million, which gave me $2 million.

Playboy: Did you tell your mother about that deal?

Geffen: Sure. She asked me how I did it, and I told her I advised people on their careers. She looked at me, puzzled, and said, “You?” A million dollars was more money than anyone in my family had ever even dreamed existed.

Playboy: How did it affect you?

Geffen: In just five years I’d gone from making $55 a week in the mailroom to making $2 million. It was a quick ride. It gave me a lot of confidence and it gave me what people refer to as “fuck you” money. It wasn’t as if I’d never have to work again, but I felt sure I would never be poor again. I could do what I wanted, and I could genuinely be fearless about the future. That’s when I started Asylum Records.

Playboy: What inspired you to start the company?

Geffen: I was managing Jackson Browne and couldn’t get anyone to sign him; nobody thought he could sing. [Atlantic Records chief] Ahmet Ertegun suggested that if I really believed in Jackson as much as I said I did, I should start a record company and record him myself. So I started the label, and within a short time I’d also signed Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Ned Doheny and Judy Sill. It became successful almost immediately.

Playboy: Did Asylum appeal to artists because it was an alternative to the major labels?

Geffen: That appealed to them, but the main thing was that we were excited about them when other record companies simply weren’t.

Playboy: A lot of people are probably kicking themselves now.

Geffen: Everybody kicks themselves when they turn down something that turns out to be successful. We’ve all done it. But the problem isn’t what you’ve passed on, it’s what you haven’t passed on. Well, at Asylum we had everybody. It was unbelievably successful. I sold Asylum in 1972 for $7 million. Seven million plus the money I had in the bank gave me $10 million. I thought I would be secure forever. Selling it was a stupid mistake, by the way—a mind-boggling, idiotic decision.

Playboy: Why?

Geffen: Because a year later, it was worth $50 million.

Playboy: At the time, did you think you would never work again? That you’d retire?

Geffen: No. But I knew I would never have fear again.

Playboy: Whereas $2 million didn’t do that?

Geffen: Two million would have done it, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I didn’t feel rich until 1972. Two million wasn’t enough—it had to be bigger than that. It’s not about reality. It’s about how you feel. But when I had more than $10 million, I no longer could tell myself it was about money, which was a blow, by the way. It was difficult because as long as I believed money was the answer, I could work harder and make more, and I’d get to the answer. So when I had all this money and still didn’t feel quite right, I crashed. I thought, Oh shit. Money isn’t the answer. This, of course, is a revelation when you grow up poor and assume that money will solve everything.

Playboy: Is that what Joni Mitchell had seen, this revelation?

Geffen: Yes. I was staying at the Inn on the Park Hotel in London. I’d smoked a joint and was lying on my bed, looking at the ceiling. That was when it hit me, and it was an enormous shock.

Playboy: Money wasn’t the answer to what?

Geffen: To being happy. It’s not that I was miserable, but something was missing, and so I went into analysis. I was 29 years old and I had about $12 million, and I wasn’t happy.

Playboy: What was your life like outside the record company?

Geffen: I was alone. My life was work. It wasn’t fulfilling enough.

Playboy: What kind of therapy did you begin?

Geffen: Five-day-a-week analysis. It helped me tremendously.

Playboy: Without trivializing it, what did you discover?

Geffen: Well, I began to realize that I had to take care of me. It wasn’t enough to take care of Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, CSN&Y and the others, and it wasn’t enough to amass a great fortune. There was little David, whom I had been ignoring completely, to take care of. I realized I had no dealt with a lot of my demons, the shit that you acquire growing up. So I started dealing with that, and I had to deal with my sexuality. I genuinely wasn’t certain if I was straight or gay. In therapy I decided that I wanted to be straight, and I seriously began to date women.

Playboy: Until then—

Geffen: I was sort of not doing anything. I was working. I had dates, but that was not a priority.

Playboy: Many gay men say they knew about their sexuality when they were very young. You didn’t?

Geffen: I knew I was interested in men, but I never had made the connection in my own head that I was gay.

Playboy: Was the idea too threatening?

Geffen: It was a different time. I never allowed myself to consider it seriously. Obviously I thought it was a possibility, but it was a frightening possibility.

Playboy: Was it frightening enough to repress?

Geffen: Absolutely. I did not want to be gay, or, I should say, I did not want to be what I had been conditioned to believe a gay man was. I had had sexual experiences with men early in my life, but I never thought or acknowledged to myself that I was homosexual. Then I decided I was straight, which is not the same thing as being straight.

Playboy: Did you begin dating women?

Geffen: In 1973 Lou Adler and I started the Roxy. It was opening night for my client Neil Young. I was sitting at a table with Bob Dylan when Lou came over and asked, “Is it all right if Cher sits with you?”

Playboy: So Cher comes over and joins you and Dylan. Only in Hollywood.

Geffen: It gets better. Cher sat down next to me, and we talked all night. After, I invited her to have dinner at my house. And within three days we were living together.

Playboy: Was this after Sonny and Cher were over?

Geffen: She was married to Sonny, and we fell in love—genuinely.

Playboy: Was this your first time in love?

Geffen: Yes. She moved in with me, two blocks away from her house where she was living with Sonny, who was living with another woman in the same house he was living in with Cher. Their relationship as a legitimate married couple was over, but they were keeping the scam together for the public because they had the biggest television show in America—as a happily married couple.

Playboy: And you’re gay!

Geffen: I hadn’t figured that out, so not only am I in love with a woman, but I’m in love with Cher. And she’s in love with me. And it’s all secret. You can’t imagine how romantic it was. We couldn’t be seen in public.

Playboy: Was that part of the romance?

Geffen: Oh my God. Sure.

Playboy: And it was Cher. Could it have been Jane Doe?

Geffen: It wasn’t Jane Doe. It was Cher. Cher. And it was the most exciting year and a half of my life. Every morning I woke up and pinched myself. I could not believe that this was my life. Asylum Records, I’m living with Cher. I’m one of the richest men in town. It was just too much. And as it turned out, it really was too much. Because one day I discovered that Cher, my beloved, was screwing somebody behind my back—the bass player in the Average White Band. It was extremely painful for me, one of the most painful experiences I’ve had in my life. I never knew that that level of pain was possible.

Playboy: Did you think you had a monogamous relationship?

Geffen: Cher had never been dishonest with me. She wanted me to allow her to have whatever experiences she needed. She had been in the relationship with Sonny from the time she was quite young. But for me it was like scraping a can opener over my brain. I became scared, mistrustful, paranoid.

Playboy: Was that the end of your relationship?

Geffen: No. The end of our relationship was when I took her to the Troubadour to see Gregg Allman. In the middle of the show, a note was delivered to her, which wasn’t unusual; people were always passing her notes. She said she was going to the bathroom. She was gone for a while. The show ended, and as we were leaving the club, Gregg Allman walked by and said to her, “I’ll see you later.”

I said, “What was that?” Cher told me the truth, which was that she had gone back to see him and she was interested in him. Once again I felt as though my heart had been ripped out.

Playboy: Why did you let it happen again?

Geffen: I didn’t. I knew that going through that experience again would be too detrimental.

Playboy: She had had this other relationship, ended it and you were back together?

Geffen: We had never really come apart. I let her go through it the first time, and that relationship came to an end naturally. But when she told me she was interested in being with Gregg Allman, I left. I couldn’t take it. She didn’t want me to leave. She wanted me to let her have these experiences, but it was too much for me, so I moved out. I moved into Warren Beatty’s house. He helped me get through that period. It was the worst decline of my life.

Playboy: We don’t think of Warren Beatty as the most sensitive guy to hang out with after a devastating breakup.

Geffen: Warren was incredibly kind and supportive. We’ve been close friends for more than 25 years.

Playboy: Then what happened?

Geffen: To make it worse, the newest issue of Esquire appeared with Cher on the cover. The cover line was, “Who’s Man Enough for This Woman?” The story was about my relationship with Cher, but it was over! Who is man enough for this woman? Clearly I wasn’t. It was the most embarrassing, humiliating thing that could possibly happen to anybody, right? I was crazy, nauseated, and I left the country. I went to Brazil. I returned and I was still crazy. I was seeing my therapist every day and speaking to him by telephone on weekends. I lived at the Beverly Hills Hotel in a bungalow. By then I was responsible for Cher beginning her solo career with the Cher show. I had put together the first three episodes, which were going to air, and she was with Allman. I had to watch the shows. And every time I picked up a magazine, she was on the cover, and I’d feel sick. I picked up an issue of Time and, in it, responding to a question about going from Sonny to me, she says, quote: “I traded one short ugly man for another.”

Playboy: Ouch.

Geffen: Yeah. You can’t imagine how painful that was for me. That was her idea of humor; she wasn’t sensitive enough to understand how painful it would be for me. We’re friends now, but it was hell.

Playboy: Did your therapy help?

Geffen: Of course. My therapist kept me from going insane. I was in so much anguish that a friend of mine suggested I go to est. A year earlier, [movie executive] Peter Guber had suggested that I go to est, and I looked at him like he was nuts. But, during that period, if somebody had suggested that my pain would go away if I became a Catholic, I would have become a Catholic. I would have done anything to get rid of the pain.

Playboy: What did est do for you?

Geffen: It was an amazing experience. I realized, for the first time in my life, that I was responsible for everything that had happened to me. I was responsible for my life. I wasn’t victim, and I had no one to blame. It sounds trite, but it is an incredibly important lesson.

Playboy: You have also been involved in other New Age self-help programs, such as Course in Miracles and Lifespring. How are they similar or different?

Geffen: They’re completely different, but they both involve ways of dealing with your stuff, whatever it is.

Playboy: How did you get involved with Marianne Williamson and her Course in Miracles?

Geffen: I went to a lecture and found it quite compelling. I returned a number of times and listened to her tapes and found some value in what she was saying. If someone says to me, “I tried this and it was valuable to me,” I’ll try it.

Playboy: What does that say about you?

Geffen: I’m looking to get better, not to be right.

Playboy: Many people view all that stuff as flaky.

Geffen: People who are cynical about those kinds of things are cynical in general. Well, they get to have their cynicism. I aspire to be better. It’s hard to judge the value of things you have not tried yourself. I might try something and decide it’s a waste of time. But more often I think I get something valuable out of these experiences.

Playboy: All toward being happy?

Geffen: No, toward getting somewhat better. You die unhealed. If you work on yourself your whole life you will still die unhealed, but you’ll have a better life if you continue to work on it. If you can heal some of the damage that comes from life, I think that’s good. If you don’t see it as valuable, then it won’t be.

Playboy: How did it help you get over things when Cher went off with Gregg Allman?

Geffen: All this work I did changed my life from that point forward. I was able to unburden myself of my pain over Cher. It still hurt, but I was able to move on. Soon after that I got fixed up with Marlo Thomas on a blind date, and within days we were in love with each other, and soon we were living together.

Playboy: So you were still trying to be straight?

Geffen: It took until the end of that relationship for me to realize that I couldn’t be straight.

Playboy: Why did it take so long?

Geffen: It was a mind-boggling realization that came at the same time I was diagnosed as having a tumor. I was in the hospital waiting to find out whether it had spread, whether I was going to have to be mutilated or whether I would die. It all sank in then. I realized there is no time to waste in life. You have to live your life one day at a time. But I had been living a lie. Trust me, when someone tells you that you have cancer, it changes your life in a profound way.

Playboy: How did it change your life?

Geffen: I thought, I’m going to live my life and see who I really am and what I really like, because I don’t know. I had been trying to be something else, but from that point on I had to be who I was. Cancer made it imperative not to waste any more time.

Playboy: What happened with your cancer?

Geffen: After four years I was told that I had been misdiagnosed. I had spent four years believing I could die, and so I understood that the future is an illusion.

Playboy: Were you working during those four years?

Geffen: I had sold Asylum to Warner Bros. and tried working in movies at Warner Studio. My contract with Warner went through 1979, but I didn’t like the movie business. They told me I could leave the studio but that they held me to my contract, which meant that they were paying me not to work. Basically, they didn’t want me to work for a competitor. It was horrible, but I made the best of it. I went to New York, hung out at Studio 54 a lot during its heyday and had a good time. Then finally my contract was over, and at the same time I found out I had been misdiagnosed.

Playboy: How did that feel?

Geffen: I was relieved, of course. I had sort of lived my life with one thing in my head, and all of a sudden there was a new piece of information. It was like a second chance. So I quickly decided to go back to work. I founded Geffen Records.

Playboy: Why the record business again, given all the other choices?

Geffen: I love the record business. It is the thing I do best, and I wanted to work. There was something Paul Simon had said to me. He said, “Begin with what you know. You never know where it will take you.” So I went back into the record business by starting a record company. The film company came next, then the theater company.

Playboy: Who were your first acts on Geffen Records?

Geffen: The first three acts I signed were Donna Summer, John Lennon and Elton John. Donna had left Casablanca Records at the peak of her career. When I got her, she had just become a born-again Christian, and her music changed radically. Her career went steadily down-hill. But with Donna and then Lennon and Elton John, it was a good start.

Playboy: Since then, Geffen Records has become one of the most successful record companies. Do you still personally sign artists?

Geffen: No, I have other people at the label do that now.

Playboy: Who signed Guns n’ Roses?

Geffen: Tom Zutaut, who works at my company, heard them and signed them. It was a very good move.

Playboy: How do you feel about some of their controversial lyrics, particularly the homophobic lyrics in One in a Million?

Geffen: I spoke with Axl Rose about the song before he put the record out. I told him I thought it would cause him a lot of trouble, but he wanted it released. It ended up getting a lot of negative reaction, which was certainly deserved.

Playboy: Does the fact that the song is homophobic bother you?

Geffen: I don’t believe Axl Rose is homophobic. I know him.

Playboy: But he has said that he was homophobic. He attributed it to abuse when he was a child.

Geffen: But he wasn’t when he made the record. He was writing about an experience early in his life.

Playboy: Some Guns n’ Roses songs are misogynistic. Don’t you consider that objectionable?

Geffen: Yes, of course I find misogyny objectionable.

Playboy: It was reported that you were shocked when you heard that Axl Rose put a Charles Manson song on the latest Guns n’ Roses LP. Didn’t you know about it in advance?

Geffen: No. I heard about it when I was on vacation in Barbados. I was watching CNN with the TV on mute. I saw a picture of Charles Manson on the screen, and then I saw these lyrics. Under them it said, “From Geffen Records.” I went crazy.

Playboy: Did you consider removing the song from future copies of the album?

Geffen: We don’t have the right to remove it. The band has, among the many rights in the members’ contracts, complete control of its material. It’s one of the biggest bands in the world. People at my company, as well as the other members of the band, had urged Axl to eliminate the song from the record, but he wouldn’t. It related in a meaningful way to a relationship that was important to him.

Playboy: Would you have stopped the record from being put out with that song had you known about it in advance?

Geffen: No, but I would have made arrangements regarding the song’s royalties prior to its release. Our concern was that it should not enrich or reward Manson in any way, so we arranged for all of the money to go to the child of one of the people who was killed by Manson’s family. Axl made the decision to do that afterward. But it would have made much more sense to have arranged this prior to the release of the album.

On the other hand, I dropped Def American Records, a label we distributed, because it was consistently putting out records I found offensive, such as Andrew Dice Clay, Slayer and the Geto Boys. It reached a point where I could not continue to put out offensive material that was recorded by artists we hadn’t even signed, and so I dropped the label. I’m not interested in making records about murdering women and fucking their dead bodies, cutting off their breasts—shit like that. That was actually on a Geto Boys record. So even though dropping the label meant losing artists I didn’t want to lose, like the Black Crowes, it was a choice I had to make. I’ve read interviews with Rick Rubin, who runs Def American, in which he talks about how he left Geffen Records. He didn’t leave, I threw him out. I couldn’t stand being associated with a lot of the records he was putting out.

Playboy: How do you feel about the violence in rap music?

Geffen: We don’t put out rap records. Look—you can make money all kinds of ways. Some people make money selling drugs. I find some rap records extraordinarily offensive, and I don’t want to profit from them.

Playboy: Do the sentiments expressed in the music trouble you?

Geffen: It troubles me that there’s as much violence in the streets as there is, that so many people are being killed and that there’s poverty and a lack of hope. All these things trouble me, and I realize rap music is a reflection of that. But these records aren’t going to help. They hurt. Some are inflammatory, and I won’t be part of it.

Playboy: But since the music reflects something that’s going on in the culture, shouldn’t those bands have a forum to express it?

Geffen: Absolutely. I didn’t say they shouldn’t be able to make records.

Playboy: But if all the record company executives used your criteria, many people wouldn’t have a voice.

Geffen: But other record company executives don’t feel that way. They put the stuff out.

Playboy: How well did you know Kurt Cobain?

Geffen: I knew him though not well. He was a lovely, gentle guy.

Playboy: Was it a shock to hear that he killed himself?

Geffen: Of course. Life was obviously extremely painful for him. He wasn’t the first person I’ve known who has killed himself. I’m not sure if there’s any way you can intervene when people are determined to die, and that’s sad.

Playboy: Recently, it was reported that Aerosmith is leaving your label for Columbia. Does that upset you?

Geffen: Not at all. When artists leave, it’s not personal. It used to take an enormous toll on me, but now it’s like a mosquito bite that you can’t quite scratch. Aerosmith is leaving because it was offered much more money than I thought made sense. I don’t blame them.

Playboy: What do you think of the high-stakes deal in which Viacom bought out Paramount, and all the other big acquisitions of studios over the past few years?

Geffen: These are management-intensive businesses that have to be run as such. They cannot be run in the same manner as manufacturing businesses. And often the prices are ridiculous. When Sony bought Columbia and Matsushita bought MCA, both overpaid tremendously. But the prices in the Paramount deal now make those prices seems like bargains. It’s all madness. And the chickens may come home to roost one day.

Playboy: Sony and Matsushita bought American movie studios because they felt they needed to have access to software, not only hardware, in the future.

Geffen: You don’t have to buy companies to have access to software. Software is and always has been available. And the truth is, if Sony sold its software companies, Matsushita would probably sell its software companies, because the return on the investment in the movie and television business hasn’t been great. They all talk about the synergy of owning it all, but the only synergy that has come out of these deals is a huge amount of debt and elephantine companies that are hard to manage.

Playboy: With some much ballyhooed new entertainment forms—new kinds of CDs, expanded cable, interactive media—it’s apparent that the entertainment industry is changing. Where do you see it going?

Geffen: The people who are telling us what the future is going to be are completely full of shit. I don’t think anyone can see the future better than you or I.

Playboy: So are the people who are betting on the future going to lose their investments?

Geffen: Some might be right about it. More likely, they’re not. All this investment in cable television, for instance, may turn out terribly because cable may soon be obsolete. The signals may be broadcast digitally. Who knows? I surely don’t. But I know that everybody who’s saying they know where things are going is doing so based on self-interest. They have no better crystal ball than anybody else.

Playboy: How will Al Gore’s information superhighway affect your businesses—when there are 500 TV channels?

Geffen: It won’t affect them at all. If there are new ways to deliver movies, Broadway shows and albums, great! It doesn’t matter to me whether I deliver them on CD, record, videocassette or by some cable system with 500 channels. Everybody claims to have a crystal ball about this stuff in the future. I don’t have a crystal ball.

Playboy: How about when it comes to the country? In what direction do you see things going, particularly since you worked so hard to get President Clinton elected?

Geffen: I think it’s wonderful to have a Democrat in the White House. It’s good that there is a group of people who are concerned about health care, crime, unemployment, a woman’s right to have an abortion and many other serious issues. It isn’t a cure-all, but there is someone who will listen.

Playboy: Have you ever been disappointed that things aren’t changing faster?

Geffen: An ocean liner doesn’t turn on a dime. But I think the president and Mrs. Clinton care about issues that affect most Americans. They are concerned about the environment, about poor, disadvantaged people—the least powerful people in America. They are concerned about making a fairer and safer America.

Playboy: How does it feel to have a direct line to the White House?

Geffen: It’s great to feel that there’s someone you could conceivably talk with, that there’s an intelligent person at the other end of the conversation who’s going to listen to what you have to say. But that’s not to say that I have any influence.

Playboy: You don’t think so?

Geffen: No. And I don’t want to present myself as a person who has influence. I neither have it nor seek it.

Playboy: But you do lobby for things you care about. You have campaigned to allow gays in the military, for example. You have worked hard to make AIDS a national priority. There are other issues—

Geffen: I care about a lot of the things that this administration is at least willing to listen to.

Playboy: Were you disappointed with the don’t-ask-don’t-tell compromise on gays in the military?

Geffen: Of course I was. But I think they did the best that could be done, unfortunately.

Playboy: Do you believe that? Do you view it as a broken promise?

Geffen: I know there are very strong forces in America against the advancement of civil rights for anybody, let alone gay people. There is a very strong conservative Christian right wing in this country that would like to send us back to the Dark Ages. It takes a long time to change.

Playboy: You are involved in gay politics beyond the military issue. How do you feel about the tactics of the radical gay groups such as Act Up, which has attempted to call attention to AIDS by disrupting the opera in San Francisco, and by throwing condoms in a church in New York?

Geffen: I have nothing to say about what they do. They do what they do, and I do what I do. I have no opinion about them. People with AIDS have a very different agenda than I do. They’re dealing with a time bomb. I’m very concerned about it. If I were infected, it might be the only thing I would think about. I don’t know what I would do. I do know that I want to make a difference.

Playboy: When did you begin to be open about being gay?

Geffen: It was never a secret. Years ago people didn’t talk publicly about being gay, and I didn’t. But there was nobody who knew me who didn’t know my story. It wasn’t like I was lying about it. I just thought that making a public statement about my sexuality was kind of tacky and inappropriate.

Playboy: Was it significant for you when, in 1992, you came out publicly at the Commitment to Life Awards ceremony honoring you and Barbra Streisand for your work on behalf of people with AIDS?

Geffen: The idea that I decided to come out is wrong. At that event, a third of the tickets were given to people who were dealing with HIV or AIDS, and I felt that I couldn’t get up in front of that audience and not acknowledge that I was gay. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Other people made a big deal about it, but I sure didn’t think it was a big deal.

Playboy: But, for gay rights organizations, it was a big deal that such a prominent person was acknowledging his homosexuality.

Geffen: I was happy to do it. It was no problem for me.

Playboy: What did it change in your life?

Geffen: Nothing. There wasn’t one person who knew me who said, “Oh my God. David Geffen is gay.”

Playboy: But you were criticized by radical gay groups for waiting so long to come out.

Geffen: I don’t care what they think.

Playboy: You disapprove of outing.

Geffen: I think it is terrible. People’s lives have been ruined, not because they are gay—being gay is not a ruinous condition—but because it was made to seem like a bad thing by those supposedly proud gays doing the outing. It has been used as a weapon. Look, all of us lead individual, singular lives. We all make our own choices. It might just be that a closeted gay person is keeping it a secret because of a career, a parent, his or her children. We do not live in a perfect, enlightened world—and until we do, none of us should sit in judgment. Empathy works both ways.

Playboy: Did you ever fear that being gay would hurt you?

Geffen: No, because, as I said, I don’t think there’s a person who knows me or who has known me over the past 20 years who doesn’t know my story. Whenever I was dating a guy, he was with me if I went to a premiere, or if I went to a dinner party. So no one was misled about me. It has never affected my business whatsoever, because people are interested in whether I’m good at what I do, not who I’m sleeping with. The people I worked with—Steve Ross, Mo Ostin, Ahmet Ertegun—always knew I was gay. In fact, they were surprised when I ended up going out with women. They couldn’t figure out what all that was about, because people think you can only be one thing or another. But that’s nonsense. People go through a world of discovery in their lives and try this or that to see whether it is something that works for them. I’ve gone out with men I didn’t like and women I didn’t like, and men I liked and women I liked.

Playboy: So are you gay or bisexual?

Geffen: Right now I’m completely, 100 percent gay. But I’d be lying if I said that it’s inconceivable to me that I might meet a woman and fall in love with her. I might. I’m not looking to, and I’m not planning on it and I don’t hope that I will, but I might. Because that’s real life.

Playboy: But don’t you know a lot of gay men who would say it’s inconceivable to fall in love with a woman?

Geffen: Yes. It was inconceivable to me until it happened. So nothing is inconceivable to me today. Every time I see Demi Moore walk in front of my beach house—we’re neighbors—I think, Whoa, she’s really hot! I’m not saying that because I want to present myself as anything other than gay—it’s the truth.

Playboy: Let’s talk about the impact of AIDS on your industry.

Geffen: It has impacted every industry—every American. An enormous number of people are dying, most of them young, who still have a lot to contribute. There’s no aspect of it that’s not tragic. I’ve lost a tremendous number of friends, acquaintances and associates—how could it not affect me? I would hope that it would affect everybody emotionally. Every person who has a conscience should care about AIDS.

Playboy: When did you begin to see that AIDS was affecting the gay community?

Geffen: One of the first people who became infected was the best friend of a friend of mine. It was before any knowledge of this thing called AIDS. People were developing illnesses that usually affected old people. No one could figure out what was going on. Then we began to hear there was a disease that affected gay people. Naturally, I thought, Oh shit! Maybe I have it. Then in the early Eighties I thought maybe everybody had it. Who knew? It was very frightening. Eventually I took the test and found out I was negative. That was, of course, a relief. Lots of people were not so fortunate. A great many friends of mine are infected, and a great many friends have already died. I save all the Rolodex cards of friends if mine who have died, and now I have hundreds of cards with a rubber band around them.

Playboy: You said that when you were a kid you couldn’t imagine knowing a millionaire. Is it any different being a billionaire?

Geffen: I live my life pretty much the same way I’ve always lived my life.

Playboy: If money is power, and a million dollars is a certain amount of power, is a billion dollars an unbelievable amount of power?

Geffen: No. It’s an illusion. It’s all an illusion.

Playboy: What do you mean?

Geffen: I mean, powerful with whom, with what?

Playboy: Obviously you can do what you want. You have enormous clout. You can buy what you want, do what you want, employ who you want, get people to do whatever you want, presumably.

Geffen: Well, I can do what I want, though I’ve been able to do pretty much what I want most of my life. But where am I? I’m still in my office. I’m at work every day. I’m no longer motivated to make money for myself, because I have enough money. So now the best part of the money is that I can do a lot of good with it. Our foundation has given away millions of dollars every year since 1990.

Playboy: When you’re not working, how do you spend your time? Do you go to rock shows?

Geffen: I’ve seen enough rock shows to last me for the rest of my life. Now I go as little as possible. I prefer listening to the albums.

Playboy: Whose concert would you still go see?

Geffen: If you told me that Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly and the Beatles were all going to get together one more time, I’d say, “Let me hear the album.” I went to so many concerts at the beginning of my career and sat there with my eardrums bursting, with all the agents and promoters, all the people backstage. Now I like albums.

Playboy: Are you currently involved with someone?

Geffen: No, but I’m always looking. Know anybody?

Playboy: You’ve talked about the women you have dated, but not the men.

Geffen: Because people are interested in Cher, or Marlo Thomas. They are not necessarily interested in the guys I go out with because nobody has ever heard of them. If I were going out with a famous man, you’d be asking me, “So, what about James Dean?”

Playboy: Has the work you have done on yourself, through therapy and the rest, paved the way for a long-term relationship?

Geffen: Absolutely. Each time, you’re better at it. I’d like to learn to be more loving, more compassionate, a better person in every regard, and I’ve come a long way.

Playboy: Do you think your success has gotten in the way of your relationships?

Geffen: No. It’s how hard I work and how much time I invest in my work.

Playboy: Are you a workaholic?

Geffen: I have learned how not to be. I take weekends off. I don’t encourage people to call me after work about business. I take vacations. I have good friends and lots of interests.

Playboy: After all the searching, have you figured out the key to happiness?

Geffen: I don’t think it’s possible to be happy if you are not being yourself.

Playboy: Are you?

Geffen: I’m a happy guy, if that’s what you’re asking. But I feel there’s more you can do to make yourself better. You constantly have to work on issues in your life. That is what a healthy person does. It’s a struggle, but it’s very rewarding.

Playboy: What do you still want to accomplish?

Geffen: When I see a movie like Schindler’s List, it reminds me how much we, in this business, can do. I’ve always thought that movies and music and television have an extraordinary opportunity to educate people, to enlighten them, to elevate them. I have always wanted to make the great movie. I don’t know that I’ve come close to making a great one, but I still hope to. People who do good work get to feel really good about it. It’s like a high-water mark that you can shoot for. It’s about striving to do good work and accomplishing something lasting and important, something that makes a difference. It’s always worth striving to do more.