Michael was a true Libra, born on October 15, 1954 in Manhattan (“It’s not New York–only outsiders say that.”) to loving parents Jane and Danal. When his baby sister arrived someone asked Michael how he liked her. His answer, “Throw her in the garbage, throw her down the stairs, and put her in the washing machine!” However, he adored his sister his entire life. He grew up in Scarsdale and treasured spending weekends with his adoring grandmothers, Adele and Barbee, in their Manhattan apartments.
Michael was a born entrepreneur. He sold everything he could find. At 13, he paid a classmate to answer the phone for his business “Michael Hadley Epstein Associates” while he sold merchandise he advertised in magazines. While attending Scarsdale High, he started buying and selling cars-his consistent passion-and convinced his father, the President of Hathaway, to wash the cars before Michael sold them. Michael was brilliant, but disliked the tedium of school and often bragged about earning a “D” in French. He tried his hand at Manhattanville College and at SUNY/Purchase, where he hired a decorator to design his apartment. During college, he became a partner in a car dealership in White Plains. But Michael couldn’t stand the cold weather. His adored uncle, Jon Epstein, was a successful television producer in Hollywood, so Michael sold his interest in the dealership and hit the road for Beverly Hills.
Arriving just as his uncle was leaving for Europe, Michael settled into his uncle’s home for the summer, using the Polo Lounge as his commissary. Before long he found his way back to automobiles and purchased the iconic House of Corvettes in the Valley. For Michael, the thrill of the chase was his drive; he soon sold the business and started looking for new ventures.
In 1987, Michael created one of the first “976” telephone companies, Michael Squared, where people paid $2 a minute to talk on party lines and listen to risquÃ© recordings. He parlayed this start-up into Systems 800 International, a hugely successful telecommunications company that he took public.
Michael and his husband, Scott, turned to expanding their contemporary art collection, another of Michael’s lifelong passions. It started in high school, when Michael would hop the train into Manhattan and explore the burgeoning art scene. As a teenager, he begged his parents to purchase an Andy Warhol original for $5,000–his parents refused because of the ridiculous cost. As their collection grew, Michael and Scott opened three art galleries in Palm Springs, naming them ROY G. BIV–a fitting reflection of their colorful lives.
Michael and Scott turned away from color and embraced black & white, collecting pieces from Hollywood’s most notable glamour photographer, George Hurrell. They soon acquired the entire archive, creating the world’s largest collection of his works. Michael expanded this acquisition to include other photographers, along with a huge pop-art collection.
Michael lived flamboyantly and loved all aspects of life: flashy cars, showy jewelry, expensive watches, handsome men, extensive high-end worldwide travel, and, of course flying first class or private. But his zeal for all things refined was tiny compared with his impassioned commitment to philanthropy and helping others. He would often say, “I’m not impressed with how much money someone has; I’m impressed with how much they give to charity.”
He backed up this passion by serving on the Board of Directors of what would become the Los Angeles LGBT Center. He and Scott were supporters for 35 years, helping to grow it into the largest LGBT organization in the world. Michael also fervently supported The Trevor Project, an organization that serves suicidal LGBTQ youth by breaking the stigma of mental illness.
Michael always made anyone he was speaking with feel like they were the most important person in the world. He collected friends like his other passions and would approach strangers on the street simply because they looked interesting, resulting in a huge array of adoring friends from around the globe.
Michael was proud to be a gay man and was even more proud to let everyone know that he was in a loving marriage with his husband, Scott E. Schwimer. People would often exclaim, “Wow, 34 years together,” and Michael would always say, “It’s not long enough.” Their secret? Michael would say that Scott always made him laugh. Sadly, their time together was cut short when Michael took his own life on August 16, 2021 after a long period of illness.
The sun set on Michael much too soon. Up to his very last night on this planet, Michael said to Scott, “We have such a beautiful home and life together, don’t we?” But G-d was calling for a colorful angel and the heavens are now emblazoned in art. There is no doubt to anyone who knew Michael that G-d is now driving a fabulous car and sporting a magnificent watch.
Michael is survived by his beloved and devoted husband/companion/best friend, Scott E. Schwimer.
Michael is loved unconditionally by his sister, Amy Hadley Epstein Arlton (Rolf), his niece Dodie Davey (Jordan) and his great nephew Juniper, his niece Deena Thiel, and his nephew Niko Thiel; his sister-in-law Sandee Schwimer Russell (James), his nephews Gregory Russell (Zoe) and Spencer Russell, and his niece Jordan Russell Vick (Justin); his brother-in-law Dr. Stanford R. Schwimer (Randi), his nephew Michael (Schuyler) and his great nephews Jackson and Dillan, his great niece Audrey, his nephew Kevin (Nora Wyman), his nephew Jeffrey (Danielle), and his great nephew Noah.
M–you’re finally going to get a good night’s sleep. I love you.