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Music mogul Don Kirshner dies at 76

Kirshner Don Kirshner, the veteran music mogul who shepherded the work of monstrously talented young songwriters to the top of the pop charts in the 1960s, launched the career of the Monkees, then made his face familiar to millions of rock fans as impresario of his late-night live-music TV series in the 1970s, died Monday of heart failure in Boca Raton, Fla., where he had lived for several years, his family members said. He was 76.

"Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" brought the biggest names in rock and pop music in the 1970s to television in "Rock Concert" in live performances instead of the usual lip-synced sessions that often characterized rock music on television. Each week Kirshner, in his distinctive Bronx accent, dryly introduced acts, including the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sly & the Family Stone, Devo and countless others over its nine-year run. His monotone style led to a famous parody that musician and bandleader Paul Shaffer delivered a number of times on "Saturday Night Live."

He helped dream up the Monkees, a fabricated pop-rock quartet designed to emulate much of the appeal of the Beatles for weekly viewers of the group's TV show, which also yielded a string of hit singles and albums. But the group members' struggles to inject their own musical sensibilities into the show led to a famous battle over creative control with Kirshner.

Guitarist and songwriter Michael Nesmith famously put his fist through the wall of Kirshner's bungalow during one of the more heated sessions.

"Donny was there with his attorney," Monkees drummer and singer Micky Dolenz told the Washington Post in 2004, "basically presenting us with this money and saying, in so many words, 'Why don't you shut up and cash the check?' And that's not the sort of thing you said to Mike Nesmith at the time. To be honest, I couldn't have cared less. I was 20 years old, making money. But Mike led this revolt, and out of camaraderie, we all went along."

The Monkees won, and eventually Kirshner was fired from his role with the group. He went on to form the Archies, one of pop's quintessential bubblegum acts targeting teen and preteen fans. The Archies logged four weeks at No. 1 in 1969 with their effervescent hit "Sugar, Sugar."

Even before the Monkees got started in 1965, Kirshner was already a music business heavyweight, having helped get a career going for his friend Bobby Darin, then starting a music publishing company that hired rising songwriters, including Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka and the teams of Gerry Goffin and Carole King and Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

Those writers crafted dozens of pop hits in the early to mid-'60s, many of them since lauded as classics of the Brill Building era. After "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" ended its run in the early 1980s, supplanted in some respects by the new kid on the block, MTV, Kirshner went into virtual retirement and moved to Florida, where he lived for decades in seclusion with his wife.

A series of bad business deals led him to file for bankruptcy in 2000. He also periodically expressed his disappointment that he was never inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as its many nonperformer honorees.

"I don't want to sound like sour grapes," he said in 2004, "but I believe I should have been one of the first three or first five inducted. Seriously. I mean, they've got people in there that I trained, and I'm not in? It bothers me, on principle."

Kirshner is survived by his wife of 50 years, Sheila, children Ricky and Daryn and five grandchildren. Services are pending.

-- Randy Lewis

More at Pop & Hiss, The Times' music blog, and later at latimes.com/obituaries.

Photo: Don Kirshner, left, with Carole King and Gerry Goffin in an undated photo. Credit: From Don Kirshner

 
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Comments (19)

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RIP Don.

RIP Don Kirshner. Thanks for putting all that great music and bands on the TV in the 70's.

Bubblegum with a severe New York monotone.

Put him in the Hall, geesh!

many a fond weekend memories with Don Kirshner's Rock Concerts, good friends and a 4 foot bamboo bong. RIP Don (I'm STILL playing the guitar after all these years, Thanks to DKRC!)

Don Kirshner absolutely belongs in the RRHF.

RIP Mr. Kirshner and thank you for bringing so much talent and music to light. And yes, Don Kirshner legitimately belongs in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

I loved Don Kirshner's Rock Concert as a pre-teen on up. My brother and I stayed up past our bedtimes to watch them. Awesome!!! I also loved the Paul Shaffer parody on SNL.

Definitely belongs in the RRHOF. If I recall...his show came on late at night in Los Angeles. Then he just disappeared. I hope he enjoyed his retirement years although it sounds as though he had a rough go of it with other business ventures.

So sad that I had to hear about him because he passed away. RIP and I hope is wife of so many years finds comfort with family...AND...Mr. K's postumous entry into the RRHOF ASAP.

He was our manager over fifty years ago. We recorded for Cub Records under the name The Eltones. His partner was Al Lewis (Blueberry Hill) and they shared an office with Bobby Darin.

Thanks Don for all you did for the music industry...

Kirshner and the Monkees to be inducted at the same time. Now, that would be really cool. And deserved. Let's get it done while Peter is still with us. Keep fighting, Peter.

Thanks Don, for a wonderful part of many people's youth. Rest well. :)

Don Kirshner should ABSOLUTELY be in the RRHOF!

I can recall checking out the TV Guide listing every week to see who would be on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. Live music, not played to a track. My favorites were the Ohio Players and AWB. Wish these were out on DVD.

Don deserves to be in the Hall....he is much more deserving than a LOT of peeps inducted over the years.....but we all know that is one of the many political games. RIP sir....!

Donny was a true gentleman.. He loved the songwriters, musicians,the artists & most of all his family..MTV would not have been if it were'nt for the Rock Concert show.. He will be missed.. Jay Siegel-The Tokens

Don Kirshner's Rock N'Roll Concert was early 1970s greatest TV song fest. New and established musical acts and bands somehow rang louder and more radiant on the nighttime show. Thanks and rest in peace, Mr. Kirshner, for staging such great performances.

Don Kirshner's passing is far more important than the loss of Keith Olbermann in real life. For those of you who are not familiar with who Don Kirshner is/was and how important he was to Rock and Roll then I would highly recommend a book written by Ken Emerson titled: "Always Magic In The Air". Don Kirshner and Al Nivens, as publishers, had the finest songwriters in Rock & Roll working for them. Forget this nonsense about bubblegum music and the attempt to cash in on Beatlemania by putting together a faux-Beatle group for teenie bopper consumption. The real deal with Kirshner are the songwriters who were part of the crew at 1619 Broadway, the demos they recorded and the SONGS they published. The amount of hits that Aldon Music published during the 60's is staggering. Plus, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert had real performances without lip-synch. What I wanna know is who won the auction bid of $125K for the rights to those shows!? I don't know who will be at the funeral but I know that Ellie, Doc and Phil will miss it. For those of us who were part of the 60's rock scene we will never forget Don Kirshner's contribution. John Sharkey (co-founder of Syndicate of Sound) 1222011


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