The legendary Walter Yetnikoff, former president of CBS Records, who brokered the deal between the company and Sony in 1988, died on August 8th — just three days before his 88th birthday, according to Variety. The Brooklyn-born and raised Yetnikoff was an industry lawyer and heading up CBS International, when his boss, Clive Davis was forced out leading to his promotion in 1973.
During his heyday leading CBS, Yetnikoff’s personality and ego sometimes eclipsed those of his clients, as he proved to be a driving force in the 1970’s and ’80s record business. He wrote of his temper and seemingly endless addiction to booze, women, and cocaine in his 2004 memoir Howling At The Moon: The Odyssey Of A Monstrous Music Mogul In An Age Of Excess.
Yetnikoff’s reign running CBS featured him working side-by-side with such icons as Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Journey, and James Taylor. Yetnikoff’s instincts and business prowess paid off for the company and his artists, with Michael Jackson’s Thriller selling over 40 million albums to date, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. selling 20 million, and Billy Joel’s The Stranger now at the 13 million mark.
Walter Yetnikoff resigned from Sony in 1990 and started several fledgling independent labels, which failed to catch on. After getting sober, Yetnikoff spent his final years helping others battle addiction and homelessness. He’s survived by his second wife and two sons.
Although Walter Yetnikoff’s days of being any type of force in the industry were dead only a decade after leading the pack, he never shied away from giving his two cents about the state of the music business — as was the case when he chatted with ManagersPro.com: “I think the record industry has abdicated its responsibilities in terms of, y’know, technology. You had FM radio — big deal. Y’know, it was very important back then to have the stereo thing. Then, you had MTV — the whole visual impact. And then you had the CD, so people got rid of their big old records and tapes and started to have CD’s. So, everything was in the growth. Now — all of a sudden you have the Internet, right? And all the old farts at the record company don’t know what to do with the Internet. How is it that (the) iPod was developed by someone outside the record business? Shouldn’t that have been Sony, don’t you think?”