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

NEW YORK – Walter Yetnikoff, the rampaging, R-rated head of CBS Information who presided above blockbuster releases by Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and many some others and or else devoted his lifestyle to a self-catered feast of “schmoozing, shmingling and bingling,” has died at age 87.

Yetnikoff’s demise was confirmed Tuesday by David Ritz, who collaborated with Yetnikoff on his memoir “Howling at the Moon.” Even further information ended up not quickly offered.

The stocky, bearded Yetnikoff was a onetime lawyer with a sharp mind, a foul mouth, a huge heart, a tin ear, a roving eye and an amazing mood, a Jewish child from Brooklyn whose hunger for recognition and power drove him to excessive in each individual way. In “Howling at the Moon,” revealed in 2004, he described his lifestyle as a 3-act perform: Act 1, “I begin to get mad.” Act 2, “I get crazier.” Act 3, “craziest of all.” Once likened by The New York Periods to the vulgar Jewish uncle “who asks his unsuspecting nephew to pull his finger,” he was a born kingpin who served embody a second when rock new music turned significant business enterprise, embraced and absorbed by company The usa, when contracts and acquisitions seemed as eventful as the songs by itself.


“If you are prosperous — as it ought to be — you just have to fork out an artist, give them a check out for all this funds,” he informed Rolling Stone in 1988. “It’s my enjoyment to give Michael Jackson a huge, big examine. Selection a person, it demonstrates that we’re thriving. Two, whatsoever he attained, we attained much more.”

He joined CBS as a workers attorney in the early 1960s, was named president of CBS Documents Intercontinental in 1971 and CEO of CBS Records in 1975, immediately after Clive Davis was fired amid allegations of payola and mismanagement of expenses. Yetnikoff was a unstable gentleman in a volatile and expansive era all over his 15 decades on top rated he competed fiercely with Warner Bros. for sector dominance. Warner experienced Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and Madonna. CBS experienced Jackson, Joel, Barbra Streisand and Bruce Springsteen. When Yetnikoff assisted influence James Taylor to leap 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 Avenue.” CBS’ revenues far more than quadrupled below his enjoy, from $485 million to in excess of $2 billion, but he also blew a fortune by arranging costly discounts for Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and some others previous their professional key.

“If I had been a CBS stockholder, I would sue for dilution of assets,” previous CBS Information A&R chief Mitch Miller once complained.

He feuded with close friends and enemies, with other labels and his individual corporation. He termed CBS chairman Thomas H. Wyman “Super Goy” and Wyman’s instant successor, the charge-chopping Laurence A. Tisch, “the evil dwarf.” Simon would allege that Yetnikoff traumatized him to the place of writer’s block and turned Yetnikoff into a villain in his 1980 movie “One Trick Pony,” in which Rip Torn performed a boorish report govt. Yetnikoff could also be righteous, threatening to boycott MTV and its then-nearly all-white playlist immediately after its preliminary refusal to air the video of Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and working with his possess dollars to invest in back again Joel’s song catalog from a previous producer and give it back again to the singer.


When he married Cynthia Slamar, in 1987, Mick Jagger, Streisand and Springsteen have been among the company.

“To Walter — The wildest person north of Asbury Park,” Springsteen at the time wrote to him. “Thanks for your friendship.”

His downfall came amid a storm of corporate turnover and backstabbing, and Yetnikoff’s particular chaos. By the late 1980s, his marriage to Slamar was collapsing and his treatment for alcoholism had not cleaned up his behavior. He alienated Springsteen and Jackson amongst others, raged in community towards rival mogul David Geffen and exasperated the executives at his new company guardian, Sony, which had bought CBS in 1987 — a deal Yetnikoff aided organize. Forced out by Sony in 1990, he experimented with to make a motion picture about Miles Davis, and failed. He tried using to start a new history enterprise, Velvel Tunes Team, and failed.

“I was not even pondering about obtaining out of mattress,” he wrote in his memoir. “I drew the curtains, closed the blinds and stayed in bed for months. I was motionless. I was worthless. I was racked with just about every lousy self-loathing sensation recognized to guy.”


In recent a long time, he volunteered at addiction restoration centers in New York Town and helped operate Commotion Data. Yetnikoff was married three instances and experienced enough affairs to make mates question he could at any time commit to one female. He would don’t forget telling Streisand in 1985 that he was marrying Slamar, only to have the singer chuckle and reply, “I really do not know everyone significantly less suited to relationship. The probabilities of you getting trustworthy are unquestionably zero.” His 3rd relationship, to Lynda Kady, did endure.

Yetnikoff grew up in a functioning-class community where problems started at home his father would defeat him up, his mom preferred him to get wealthy. Weakened, but decided, he attended Brooklyn College as an undergraduate and been given a regulation diploma from Columbia College. Just after currently being stationed in Germany while serving in the Army from 1956-58, he returned to New York and joined the legislation business of Rosenman and Colin.


Among his extra ambitious peers was a balding youthful law firm named Clive Davis, a fellow Jew from Brooklyn who would quickly depart for Columbia records and, in 1961, confident Yetnikoff to be part of him. He was soon assigned to collect $40,000 from Morris Levy, a audio entrepreneur infamous for his ties to arranged criminal offense. Levy turned a pal and even agreed to settle his debt.

“To vibrant boy Yetnikoff,” he wrote, “I’m not shelling out for the reason that I gotta. I’m spending due to the fact I wanna. I’d dislike to see you in problems so early in your occupation. That’ll arrive later on.”

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