Hard-boiled record industry executive who managed Michael Jackson in the 1980s
Michael Jackson's manager Frank Dileo, who has died aged 63 following complications from heart surgery, was a virtual caricature of the old-school record industry mogul. A beefy, 5ft 2in Italian American who perpetually smoked a fat cigar, with his hair tied into a ponytail and rings on both little fingers, Dileo was a hard-boiled deal-maker who slogged his way up through record distribution and promotion before becoming a senior executive at Epic Records, for whom Jackson recorded. His success in turning Jackson into the globe-conquering King of Pop prompted Jackson to hire Dileo as his manager, forming one of the most formidable partnerships in music-business history.
Dileo was born in Pittsburgh, and his earliest music-related job was stacking shelves in record shops. He was hired by Epic in Cleveland in 1968 to promote records to radio stations. Having enjoyed success promoting such artists as the Hollies and Sly and the Family Stone, he was rewarded with a move to Epic's regional hub in Chicago. He was headhunted by RCA and then Bell Records, and in 1972 moved to Monument Records in Nashville.
In 1979, Dileo was hired by the CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff to rejoin Epic, which was a subsidiary of CBS, this time in New York as vice-president of national promotion. Epic's roster was crammed with big-selling acts including Gloria Estefan, Meat Loaf, Ozzy Osbourne, REO Speedwagon and Culture Club, and Dileo ensured that they were promoted with every tool at his disposal. These included the use of a group of independent record pluggers dubbed The Network, who were investigated by US federal authorities in the 1980s for payola (bribery) and alleged links to organised crime. Dileo rebuffed such allegations with the comment: "There ain't been organised crime since Capone died."
Epic's biggest act of all was Jackson, and the star was delighted with Dileo's inspired work promoting his 1982 album Thriller. Dileo devised a successful radio campaign and exploited the new medium of the pop video for the singles Billie Jean, Beat It and especially Thriller, which became a mini-movie directed by John Landis and featuring dancing zombies and a rap by the actor Vincent Price. Thriller generated seven Top 10 singles in the US and netted Jackson seven Grammy awards in 1984.
The singer hired Dileo as his manager, and he stayed in post for the next five years, adding value to the Jackson brand by negotiating a $10m endorsement deal with Pepsi and organising two massively successful international tours. However, Jackson was unhappy when his Thriller follow-up, Bad, failed to get near his target of 100m in sales, and he sacked Dileo in 1989.
Dileo enjoyed a fling with Hollywood when Martin Scorsese (who had directed Jackson's Bad video) cast him as the mafioso Tuddy Cicero in GoodFellas (1990). He also played the record executive Frankie "Mr Big" Sharp in Wayne's World (1992) and Wayne's World 2 (1993). After managing artists including Taylor Dayne and the Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora in the 1990s, Dileo made a surprise comeback as Jackson's manager. He had shown stoical support for the singer by attending every day of his three-month child-molestation trial in California in 2005, which ended with Jackson's acquittal. Dileo worked with Jackson in 2009 as the artist prepared to perform 50 comeback concerts at the O2 Arena in London. When Jackson died of a drugs overdose three weeks before opening night, it fell to Dileo to break the news to the star's children.
In January 2011, Dileo revealed that he was planning to write a book about his life in the music business, which would have included details about his wrangling with the executors of Jackson's estate. "There's so much misinformation out there that I'm going to set the record straight once and for all," he said.
Dileo is survived by his wife, Linda, his son, Dominic, and daughter, Belinda, and his sister.
? Frank Michael Dileo, record executive and manager, born 23 October 1947; died 24 August 2011