Walter Yetnikoff, volatile head of CBS Records, dead at 87

NEW YORK – Walter Yetnikoff, the rampaging, R-rated head of CBS Data who presided above blockbuster releases by Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and several other people and if not devoted his life to a self-catered feast of “schmoozing, shmingling and bingling,” has died at age 87.

Yetnikoff’s death was verified Tuesday by David Ritz, who collaborated with Yetnikoff on his memoir “Howling at the Moon.” Additional details were being not right away available.

The stocky, bearded Yetnikoff was a onetime law firm with a sharp thoughts, a foul mouth, a major heart, a tin ear, a roving eye and an amazing mood, a Jewish kid from Brooklyn whose starvation for recognition and electrical power drove him to excess in every way. In “Howling at the Moon,” posted in 2004, he explained his lifestyle as a 3-act play: Act 1, “I commence to get outrageous.” Act 2, “I get crazier.” Act 3, “craziest of all.” The moment likened by The New York Moments to the vulgar Jewish uncle “who asks his unsuspecting nephew to pull his finger,” he was a born kingpin who helped embody a moment when rock music grew to become large business, embraced and absorbed by company America, when contracts and acquisitions seemed as eventful as the songs by itself.


“If you are productive — as it need to be — you merely have to pay an artist, give them a examine for all this dollars,” he informed Rolling Stone in 1988. “It’s my enjoyment to give Michael Jackson a large, significant check. Variety just one, it reveals that we’re thriving. Two, regardless of what he acquired, we attained a lot more.”

He joined CBS as a workers lawyer in the early 1960s, was named president of CBS Records Global in 1971 and CEO of CBS Information in 1975, after Clive Davis was fired amid allegations of payola and mismanagement of charges. Yetnikoff was a risky gentleman in a unstable and expansive period through his 15 many years on leading he competed fiercely with Warner Bros. for marketplace dominance. Warner had Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and Madonna. CBS had Jackson, Joel, Barbra Streisand and Bruce Springsteen. When Yetnikoff assisted influence James Taylor to soar from Warner to CBS, Warner lured Paul Simon absent from CBS.


His reign peaked with this sort of mega-sellers as Jackson’s “Thriller,” Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” and Joel’s “52nd Road.” CBS’ revenues additional than quadrupled under his check out, from $485 million to over $2 billion, but he also blew a fortune by arranging high-priced deals for Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and other individuals past their commercial key.

“If I were a CBS stockholder, I would sue for dilution of assets,” former CBS Documents A&R main Mitch Miller the moment complained.

He feuded with close friends and enemies, with other labels and his have organization. He termed CBS chairman Thomas H. Wyman “Super Goy” and Wyman’s rapid successor, the cost-cutting Laurence A. Tisch, “the evil dwarf.” Simon would allege that Yetnikoff traumatized him to the position of writer’s block and turned Yetnikoff into a villain in his 1980 movie “One Trick Pony,” in which Rip Torn played a boorish history executive. Yetnikoff could also be righteous, threatening to boycott MTV and its then-almost all-white playlist right after its original refusal to air the online video of Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and employing his individual funds to buy back again Joel’s song catalog from a former producer and give it back to the singer.


When he married Cynthia Slamar, in 1987, Mick Jagger, Streisand and Springsteen had been amongst the visitors.

“To Walter — The wildest male north of Asbury Park,” Springsteen after wrote to him. “Thanks for your friendship.”

His downfall arrived amid a storm of corporate turnover and backstabbing, and Yetnikoff’s individual chaos. By the late 1980s, his relationship to Slamar was collapsing and his procedure for alcoholism had not cleaned up his conduct. He alienated Springsteen and Jackson amid some others, raged in public from rival mogul David Geffen and exasperated the executives at his new corporate father or mother, Sony, which experienced obtained CBS in 1987 — a offer Yetnikoff helped organize. Forced out by Sony in 1990, he experimented with to make a motion picture about Miles Davis, and unsuccessful. He attempted to start off a new report company, Velvel Music Team, and failed.

“I wasn’t even thinking about having out of mattress,” he wrote in his memoir. “I drew the curtains, closed the blinds and stayed in bed for months. I was immobile. I was ineffective. I was racked with each and every lousy self-loathing emotion recognised to person.”


In recent several years, he volunteered at dependancy restoration centers in New York City and assisted operate Commotion Information. Yetnikoff was married 3 moments and had more than enough affairs to make pals question he could at any time commit to a single female. He would remember telling Streisand in 1985 that he was marrying Slamar, only to have the singer chuckle and reply, “I do not know anyone a lot less suited to relationship. The likelihood of you remaining trustworthy are absolutely zero.” His 3rd relationship, to Lynda Kady, did endure.

Yetnikoff grew up in a functioning-course neighborhood wherever trouble commenced at home his father would beat him up, his mom wished him to get rich. Weakened, but established, he attended Brooklyn Higher education as an undergraduate and gained a regulation degree from Columbia University. Soon after currently being stationed in Germany even though serving in the Army from 1956-58, he returned to New York and joined the legislation company of Rosenman and Colin.


Amid his more formidable peers was a balding younger lawyer named Clive Davis, a fellow Jew from Brooklyn who would soon go away for Columbia data and, in 1961, persuaded Yetnikoff to be a part of him. He was shortly assigned to acquire $40,000 from Morris Levy, a tunes entrepreneur infamous for his ties to organized criminal offense. Levy turned a mate and even agreed to settle his financial debt.

“To dazzling boy Yetnikoff,” he wrote, “I’m not spending for the reason that I gotta. I’m having to pay because I wanna. I’d loathe to see you in difficulty so early in your profession. That’ll arrive later.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may perhaps not be printed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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