Rock promoter Kirshner dies in Florida at age 76

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Don Kirshner, a rock promoter and music publisher who helped garner hits for the make-believe groups The Monkees and The Archies and boosted the careers of Billy Joel, Neil Diamond and the Police, has died. He was 76.

Promoter Jack Wishna, a close friend and business associate, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Kirshner, whom Time magazine once dubbed “The Man with the Golden Ear,” was in a hospital in Boca Raton being treated for an infection when he died on Monday.

“Donny Kirshner would take a kid off the street ... and turn him into Neil Diamond, Carole King, James Taylor, on and on,” Wishna said. “I haven’t spoken to anyone in the music business that Donny hasn’t either discovered, promoted, or touched in some way.

“I’ve never seen anybody like this in my life,” he said.

The Bronx-born Kirshner started off in the business as a songwriter, penning “My First Love” for Bobby Darin. But he had more success in tapping songwriting talents like Diamond, King and Neil Sedaka.

Kirshner’s songwriters were tapped in the 1960s to create music for a group manufactured for TV — The Monkees. They became a huge sensation in both the TV and the rock world and had hits including “I’m a Believer,” which Diamond wrote.

“I’m saddened to learn of the loss of Don Kirshner. He was the king of Tin Pan Alley — there never was a better song plugger,” Diamond said in a statement to the AP. “ll always be grateful to him for pairing ’I’m A Believer’ and other songs of mine with the Monkees. The music business never had a better supporter.”

Kirshner also was behind the music that made magic for The Archies, based off the comic strip characters, including the classic “Sugar Sugar.”

“Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” which premiered in 1972 and ran a decade, gave national exposure to musicians including Joel and the Police. Kirshner also helped launch the careers of Prince, The Eagles, Lionel Richie and Ozzy Osborne. The show also boosted careers of comics including Billy Crystal, Arsenio Hall and David Letterman.

“Don Kirshner gave new, young musicians the opportunity to showcase their performances for a huge audience during the ’golden age’ of the popular music business,” Joel said in a statement. “At the time, his ’hands-off’ approach to how rock and roll music was presented made television a viable medium for many now-iconic recording artists.”

Paul Shaffer, Letterman’s musical director, used to give a deadpan performance during his imitation of Kirshner on Saturday Night Live. Shaffer and Kirshner worked together on the short-lived sitcom, A Year at the Top, according to Shaffer’s manager.

Pop singer Tony Orlando, whom Kirshner hired for $50 a week to record demos, said his mentor was like the Thomas Edison of music.

“Every dream I ever had as a kid, he was my genie,” Orlando told AP.

Orlando said Kirshner was responsible for so many careers, “it would make your head spin.”

“This was not just a song guy, this was a man who created the cornerstones of American pop music as we know it today,” Orlando said. “Without Donny Kirshner, the music we know of today would not be the same. He was a game-changer, and I tell you that me and my family feel this tremendous loss for this man.”

Wishna said Kirshner was a mentor who knew the art of discovering talent and cared about the artists he worked with.

“He was a father to these people even though some of them were three or four years younger than him,” Wishna said.

Wishna said Kirshner, who was honored by the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2007, was a pioneer who developed a system for singer-songwriters to share in the profits of selling music.

Howard Kramer, curatorial director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said Kirshner will be most remembered for “nurturing and developing an early, unprecedented amount of artists, mostly songwriters, and also a television pioneer for bringing live rock ’n’ roll to television.”

Kirshner also ran three labels, Dimension Records, Colgems Records and Kirshner Records.

Before he died, Kirshner was chief creative officer of Rockrena, a company launching this year to find and promote talent online.

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Associated Press writer Suzette Laboy in Miami and Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody in New York contributed to this report.

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