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Deen parts with agent after racial slur fallout

Updated at: 07/05/2013 6:36 AM
By RUSS BYNUM

(AP) SAVANNAH, Ga. - Paula Deen announced Thursday that she has cut business ties with the agent who helped make her a Food Network star and launch a media and merchandising empire that has largely crumbled in the wake of her admission that she used racial slurs in the past.

Deen had worked with New York agent Barry Weiner for more than a decade. She has said he was instrumental in getting her show "Paula’s Home Cooking" on the Food Network in 2002. She gave no reason for her parting with Weiner in a prepared statement.

"Paula Deen has separated from her agent," Deen’s spokeswoman, Elana Weiss, said in an email Thursday. "She and her family thank him for the tireless effort and dedication over the many years."

Deen’s breakup with one of her key partners comes after a turbulent two weeks that have left the celebrity chef’s network of business deals in shambles. It all started within days of the public disclosure of a legal deposition in which Deen admitted under oath to having used the N-word.

The Food Network passed on renewing Deen’s contract and yanked her shows off the air. Smithfield Foods, the pork producer that paid Deen as a celebrity endorser, dropped her soon after. Retailers including Wal-Mart and Target said they’ll no longer sell Deen’s products and publisher Ballantine scuttled plans for her upcoming cookbook even though it was the No. 1 seller on Amazon. Even the diabetes drug company that made the much-criticized deal to hire Deen as a paid spokeswoman dumped her.

Weiner worked to turn Deen into a comfort-food queen since she was little more than a Savannah restaurant owner and self-publisher of cookbooks who earned raves for her fried chicken.

In her book "Paula Deen: It Ain’t All About the Cookin,’" Deen recalled meeting Weiner through TV producer Gordon Elliott, who was convinced they could turn her into a star.

"Barry and Gordon felt like there was a show somewhere inside this Paula character that could be very successful," Deen wrote. "They probably courted Food Network for two years trying to push me at them."

Deen also noted in her book: "Barry is affectionately known in my family as Barry Cuda. Perfect name for an agent."

Deen’s business deals began falling apart after she was questioned under oath in May as part of a civil lawsuit filed last year by Lisa Jackson, a former manager of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, which Deen co-owns with her brother, Bubba Hiers. Jackson says she was sexually harassed and worked in an environment rife with racial slurs and innuendo.

Ultimately it was Deen’s own words that proved damaging. Asked in her deposition if she had ever used the N-word, she replied: "Yes, of course." That she also insisted "it’s been a very long time" seemed to matter little to the companies paying to use her name and image with their products. Neither were they swayed by Deen’s apologies in online videos and in person with the "Today" show’s Matt Lauer.

Forbes magazine last year ranked Deen as the fourth-highest-earning celebrity chef last year, figuring she had hauled in $17 million. Her company Paula Deen Enterprises generates total annual revenue of nearly $100 million, according to Burt Flickinger III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.

Deen cast no blame in her statement announcing her split with Weiner. It ended by saying, "Paula wishes him well in all future endeavors."

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)