Russ Regan, the label chief who made stars out of Elton John and Barry White, gave The Beach Boys their name and helped birth the 1980s soundtrack explosion, died Sunday at his home in Palm Springs. He was 89.

His daughter Rachael Grace announced his death with a Facebook post today, writing “he fought a good fight and had an extraordinary life.”

Among the online tributes was this one from songwriter Diane Warren: “U not only had a great ear, but a great heart.”

Known universally as one of the good guys in the record business, Regan moved to Los Angeles in 1956 from his native Stockton where he was born Harold Rustigian and had worked as a Gallo wine salesman.

He tried his hand first as a performer—he was a violinist, drummer and composer—and had a Top 40 novelty hit in 1959 with "The Happy Reindeer" under the name Dancer, Prancer and Nervous for Capitol. He also worked with Sonny Bono—they had a group called The Checkmates—and used the name Davey Summers for a Warner Bros. release, "Calling All Cars," that Bono produced.

He gave up the performing side to work as a record promoter in the early 1960s, first for Motown where he worked early hits by Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and The Supremes, then Sceptor, home to Dionne Warwick and, on the subsidiary WandThe Kingsmen's "Louie Louie.".

In 1966, Regan became General Manager of Loma Records, Bob Krasnow’s Warner Bros. imprint that was being positioned as the Motown of Southern California. While Loma had minor hits by J.J. Jackson and Lorraine Ellison, Reagan demonstrated his A&R chops after hearing O.C. Smith’s version of "That's Life" and suggested it for Frank Sinatra, who had a Top 5 single with the track.

Regan then moved to UNI Records, a new imprint for MCA, in 1967, where his first hit was the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense And Peppermints.”

He was quickly promoted to General Manager then President, signing John, Neil Diamond, Olivia Newton-John and Hugh Masekela, and gave the greenlight to Jesus Christ Superstar, establishing UNI as a leader for its commercial success and the creativity of its roster.

It was his success in marketing the then-unknown John as if he were an established star that established Regan’s reputation as an artists-first executive. Regan accompanied John on his first U.S. tour, the one Robert Hilburn famously raved about in the Los Angeles Times, and with each new glowing review, Regan unleashed another collection of advertisements to build John’s career. Among executives at the MCA Tower, the campaign was dubbed “Regan’s Folly” as the public was initially slow to respond to the publicity. Obviously his efforts paid off as John promptly blossomed as the label’s biggest seller.

John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin said, “He was larger than life; a big-hearted maverick, whose belief in us was a key component to our success in America.”

When 20th Century Fox decided to revive its dormant label in 1972, Regan was tapped as President of 20th Century Records, and he made three signings off the bat: Barry White, The DeFranco Family and Maureen McGovern. Fox liked what they saw, congratulating him with a Sunset Boulevard billboard that touted the label’s 20 gold records in its first six months. Two years after taking the job, NARM named him Record Executive of the Year.

He opened his own Millennium Records in 1976, which Casablanca absorbed and then was folded into Polygram. Regan became Polygram’s General Manager of West Coast Operations in 1980 and having dabbled in soundtracks, advised the company to step up its involvement in film.

Their first smash with Regan as music consultant was Flashdance; he would consult and supervise Stayin’ Alive, Breakin’, The Karate Kid, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and others.

He returned to Motown in 1986 as President of the Creative Division, where he worked on Smokey Robinson's successful comeback effort, One Heartbeat. He left in 1988 after the label was sold.

He remained active in the music industry for the next few decades as a soundtrack consultant, formed Velocity Entertainment, Quality Records and was on the advisory board of SMC Entertainment.


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