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August, 11

Walter Yetnikoff, label exec who championed Michael Jackson, dies aged 87

Walter Yetnikoff, label exec who championed Michael Jackson, dies aged 87

Walter Yetnikoff, the record label executive who championed the career of Michael Jackson and others, has died aged 87 due to bladder cancer.

As president of CBS Records, Yetnikoff oversaw hits such as Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Barbra Streisand’s Guilty – her biggest-selling album – and “Weird Al” Yankovic’s phenomenally successful comedy records.

But it was his stewardship of Michael Jackson that generated the biggest success, after he – initially reluctantly – oversaw the signing of the Jackson 5 from Motown Records in 1975. Yetnikoff allowed Michael to start recording his own music, leading to a string of hit solo albums including the biggest-selling album of all time, Thriller.

Yetnikoff lobbied for the single Billie Jean to be played on MTV, threatening to pull the rest of his roster from the channel if they didn’t accede. The Jackson estate has paid tribute to his efforts after his death, writing: “It is difficult today to imagine the level of cultural apartheid at the music channels in 1983 … Yetnikoff was ferocious on Michael’s behalf and didn’t hesitate to play corporate chicken with the powerful music channel. In short order, Billie Jean was added to MTV in heavy rotation, opening the flood gates for Michael’s extraordinary success and also for a whole generation of black artists. Walter forced that to happen, and with that decision, the wall came tumbling down.”

At the 1984 Grammy awards, Jackson hailed Yetnikoff as “the best president of any record company”.

Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Yetnikoff studied law at university and joined CBS as a lawyer in 1962, having served in the US army in the mid-1950s. He rose through the ranks, becoming president of the label’s international arm in 1971 and president and chief executive of the whole company in 1975.

Known as a relationship manager more than a seeker of new talent, he developed stars including Cyndi Lauper and Gloria Estefan, and signed Paul McCartney, who he paired with Jackson and Stevie Wonder for hit duets. Other key albums during his tenure included Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, and a string of hits with Billy Joel.

He assisted in the $2bn sale of CBS to Sony in 1988, but left in 1990 amid a dispute with executive Tommy Mottola, and struggles with depression and addiction. Having emerged unscathed from a payola scandal at CBS in the mid-1980s, Yetnikoff later wrote in his 2004 memoir: “I might have been middle-aged, but I adopted the youthful battle cry of more sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. I wanted more of everything, and I wanted it with a vengeance.” He entered rehab in 1989.

Later ventures, including his own label Velvel, did not match his CBS success, and an attempt to produce a Miles Davis biopic starring Wesley Snipes failed.

Yetnikoff was married three times, and had two sons with his first wife, June May Horowitz, called Michael and Daniel. They survive him along with his wife, Lynda.

 

Source: msn.com
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