CBS Records volatile director Walter Yetnikoff dead at 87
NEW YORK (AP) – Walter Yetnikoff, the rampant, R-rated CBS Records conductor who presided over the hit releases of Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and many others and dedicated his life to an independent bingling feast, ”is died at the age of 87.
Yetnikoff’s death was confirmed Tuesday by David Ritz, who collaborated with Yetnikoff on his memoir “Howling at the Moon”. More details were not immediately available.
The stocky and bearded Yetnikoff was a former lawyer with a sharp wit, a coarse mouth, a big heart, a pewter ear, a wandering eye and an extraordinary temper, a Jewish boy from Brooklyn whose thirst for recognition and power brought him down. was pushing excessively all over the place. In “Howling at the Moon”, published in 2004, he described his life as a play in three acts: Act 1, “I’m starting to go crazy. Act 2, “I’m getting crazier.” Act 3, “the craziest of all”. Once compared by the New York Times to the vulgar Jewish uncle “asking his unsuspecting nephew to pull his finger off”, he was a born pillar who helped epitomize a time when rock music became big business, embraced and absorbed by American companies, when contracts and acquisitions seemed as hectic as the music itself.
“If you’re successful – as it should be – you just have to pay an artist, give them a check for all that money,” he told Rolling Stone in 1988. “It’s a pleasure to give to Michael Jackson one big, big check First, it shows we are successful Two, whatever he won, we won more.
He joined CBS as a lawyer in the early 1960s, was named President of CBS Records International in 1971, and CEO of CBS Records in 1975, after Clive Davis was fired amid allegations of payola and bad expense management. Yetnikoff was a volatile man in a volatile and expansive era; Throughout his 15 years at the top, he competed fiercely with Warner Bros. for the domination of industry. Warner had Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and Madonna. CBS had Jackson, Joel, Barbra Streisand, and Bruce Springsteen. When Yetnikoff helped convince James Taylor to switch from Warner to CBS, Warner lured Paul Simon away from CBS.
His reign culminated with mega-sellers such as Jackson’s “Thriller”, Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” and Joel’s “52nd Street”. CBS’s revenue more than quadrupled under his leadership, from $ 485 million to over $ 2 billion, but he also blew a fortune by making costly deals for Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and others. after their commercial heyday.
“If I were a CBS shareholder, I would sue for asset dilution,” former CBS Records A&R chief Mitch Miller once complained.
He quarreled with friends and enemies, with other labels and his own business. He called CBS president Thomas H. Wyman a “Super Goy” and Wyman’s immediate successor, cost-cutting Laurence A. Tisch, “the evil dwarf.” Simon alleges that Yetnikoff traumatized him to the point of becoming a writer and made Yetnikoff a villain in his 1980 film “One Trick Pony,” in which Rip Torn played a crass record director. Yetnikoff could also be fair, threatening to boycott MTV and its then virtually all-white playlist after its initial refusal to release Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video and using his own money to buy back Joel’s song catalog from an elder. producer and give it back to the singer.
When he married Cynthia Slamar in 1987, Mick Jagger, Streisand and Springsteen were among the guests.
“To Walter – the wildest man north of Asbury Park,” Springsteen once wrote to him. “Thank you for your friendship.”
His downfall came amid a storm of corporate turnover and backstabbing, and Yetnikoff’s personal chaos. By the late 1980s, her marriage to Slamar fell apart and her alcohol treatment had not cleaned up her behavior. He alienated Springsteen and Jackson, among others, raged in public against rival mogul David Geffen and infuriated executives at his new parent company, Sony, which bought CBS in 1987 – a deal Yetnikoff has helped to conclude. Expelled by Sony in 1990, he tried to make a film about Miles Davis, and failed. He tried to start a new record company, Velvel Music Group, and failed.
“I didn’t even think about getting out of bed,” he wrote in his memoir. “I drew the curtains, closed the blinds and lay in bed for months. I was still. I was useless. I was plagued by all the bad feelings of self-loathing known to man.
In recent years, he has volunteered at drug rehab centers in New York City and helped manage Commotion Records. Yetnikoff got married three times and had enough adventures to make his friends doubt that he could ever engage with just one woman. He would remember telling Streisand in 1985 that he was marrying Slamar, only for the singer to laugh and say, “I don’t know anyone less suited to marriage. The chances of you being loyal are absolutely zero. Her third marriage, to Lynda Kady, lasted.
Yetnikoff grew up in a working-class neighborhood where troubles started at home; his father beat him, his mother wanted him to become rich. Damaged, but determined, he attended Brooklyn College as an undergraduate and earned a law degree from Columbia University. After being stationed in Germany while serving in the military from 1956 to 1958, he returned to New York and joined the Rosenman and Colin law firm.
Among his more ambitious peers was a young bald lawyer named Clive Davis, another Jew from Brooklyn who was soon to leave for Columbia Records and, in 1961, convinced Yetnikoff to join him. He was soon tasked with raising $ 40,000 from Morris Levy, a music entrepreneur known for his ties to organized crime. Levy became a friend and even agreed to settle his debt.
“To the smart boy Yetnikoff,” he wrote, “I don’t pay because I have to. I pay because I want to. I would hate to see you struggling so early in your career. It will come later.
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