If laughter is the best medicine then Eric Rhone will probably live forever. How can he not? As a close friend and manager of comedian Cedric Kyles, aka Cedric the Entertainer, for 20 years Rhone has built his career on laughter. But then, laughter is something that comes naturally to him.
“I just love to have fun,” he explains. “As a kid growing up in Normandy we didn’t have a lot of popular toys, but we did have our imaginations. We created our own fun. It was great. So we were always laughing and having a good time. And I still love to laugh, to see people laugh, and to make people laugh.”
And through Vision Management, his
St. Louis-based, multi-million dollar entertainment management corporation, Rhone is doing just that, if only behind the scenes.
“I’m a straight businessman; no entertainment for me,” he says chuckling. “But we do manage entertainers, writers, and athletes, as well as produce and finance movies and television shows.”
Rhone’s career in the entertainment business started when he met Cedric while attending Southeast Missouri State University. It was 1983 and Rhone was majoring in
business, while Cedric studied mass communication. Cedric started doing stand-up comedy at local clubs, with Rhone acting as his manager. But since neither believed it would go anywhere, Rhone returned home, where he completed his degree at Lindenwood University, and then went to work for Monsanto. But still the world of entertainment beckoned the two friends.
“Cedric was working for State Farm Insurance, but he continued to do comedy clubs throughout St. Louis in the evenings,” Rhone says. “I’d set up all the shows. I think at the time we charged about $3 per person.”
After seven years of living a double life, Rhone says he finally had to make a choice —the corporate world or the world of entertainment.
“My business had grown so much that I found myself spending a lot of time with it, even while working at Monsanto,” he explains. “It wasn’t fair to them. I had to make a choice. So I left Monsanto, shipped my clothes in UPS boxes, and Cedric and I drove to LA to start beating the streets and making contacts.”
And it paid off. Rhone not only got Cedric on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam,” but a reoccurring role on “The Steve Harvey Show,” which ran for about 5 years. He’s sealed the deals on such projects as the “Kings of Comedy Tour”—the highest grossing comedy tour in history, grossing over $37 million—as well as the subsequent film, “The Original Kings of Comedy.” He’s also negotiated multi-million dollar sponsorship deals with McDonald’s, Nike, and Anheuser-Busch, which include the award-winning Super Bowl ads for Bud Light.
Currently Rhone is wrapping up negotiations for a film to star Kel Mitchell, best known for his role of Kel Kimble on Nickelodeon’s “Kenan & Kel.” It will be the first film financed by Vision Management. Also in the works is a movie he plans to produce based on the book about Reginald F. Lewis, the first African-American billionaire, titled, “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?”.
“It’s really a book about his rise on Wall Street,” says Rhone. “Lewis is the one who bought out Beatrice International. It’s an amazing story.”
Rhone has also accepted Gov. Jay Nixon’s appointment to the Missouri Board of Tourism, a position he will step into this year. And as a member of the St. Louis RCGA Board of Directors, he’s organizing a star-studded All-Star Game luncheon to be held July 14 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown St. Louis.
“We’re inviting all St. Louis and visiting “C” level executives to attend,” he says. “Some of the old Hall of Fame baseball legends will be there, and it will be hosted by Bob Costas and Cedric the Entertainer. So it’s going to be a fabulous event, part of our continuing efforts to bring economic development to this region. We’re really looking forward to it.”
Rhone admits he spends a great deal of time traveling back and forth from St. Louis to LA. Still, he says he had no desire to leave his hometown.
“I have a home, an office and staff in LA, but it’s too massive and fast-paced there.
St. Louis with its Midwestern values grounds me. It’s the type of town where you can know folks, do business, and have a lot of fun while still maintaining what’s really important—family, friends, and community. And that’s where I want to raise my kids—in the community I grew up in and love.”