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AFTER THE GOLD RUSH: THE LEGACY OF ELLIOT ROBERTS


The dictionary definition of the word manager should have Elliot Roberts’ picture alongside it. Roberts, who died on Friday, June 21, at the age of 76, didn’t invent the job, but he performed it with unparalleled loyalty, ferocity, insight and unconditional love.

Roberts’ death was confirmed Friday afternoon by Neil Young’s camp. “It is with a heavy heart that we can confirm the passing of Elliot Roberts,” the statement reads. “No further details are available at this time. Roberts, among the most respected and beloved music industry figures of all time, leaves an indelible footprint as a pioneer and leader in the business of artist representation. His uncanny intellect, unmatched, sharp wit, larger-than-life charisma along with his keen understanding of the music industry will remain unparalleled. Truly one of a kind, he will be missed always and by many.”

Roberts also managed the careers of Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Tom Petty, Bob DylanDEVO, The Cars and Tracy Chapman, among others. But he’ll forever be most closely linked with Young. The two friends had a historic, utterly one-of-a- kind manager-client relationship; when it came to Neil at any point during the 52 years Elliot looked after him, the phrase “He would kill for his client” was only slightly hyperbolic. He was not merely respected but beloved by most in his orbit—and feared by those who got in the way of his artists.

“All the words in the world could not express my sense of love and thanks to Elliot Rabinowitz and his beautiful family, who adored him,” Young writes in his tribute, titled “The Greatest Manager of All Time,” which appears on neilyoungarchives.com. “When it came to our business, Elliot guided me through every move. We talked every day. Often I would call him multiple times a day, arguing, discussing, planning and sharing. He was there for me and protected my music with a fierceness.”

“Neil likes quirky people around him,” Roberts told Jimmy McDonough in his hard-earned Young biography, Shakey (2002). “I think having quirky people around him lessens—in his mind—his own quirkiness. ‘Yes, I am standing on my head, but look at these two other guys nude standing on their head.’”

McDonough then offered this pithy description of the man in action: “His mane of gray hair flying, Roberts was on his 96th phone call of the day, either chewing out some record-company underling or closing a million-dollar deal.”

Geffen-Roberts was the hottest management company in the business in the early ’70s. In 1971, David Geffen and Roberts launched Asylum—which was later merged with Elektra with Geffen running the show after Jac Holzman sold to the label to Warner. Elliot then started Lookout Management, where he partnered with Tony Dimitriades and where movie producer Bill Gerber made his music bones. Irving Azoff, who'd learned the ropes of the L.A. music business at Geffen-Roberts, left as well, starting Frontline Management and taking the Eagles with him. Dimitriades formed East End Management, whose biggest client was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. And Geffen, of course, became David fucking Geffen. The branches of that family tree spread wide.

“Elliot Roberts was the unique kind of human who always knew how to nurture and make people feel good about themselves,” Azoff says of his former boss and mentor. “He sheltered his artist-friends so they could create in a safe environment. I treasure the time I worked for him and learned so much. He and David Geffen together formed a perfect management team that became the model all managers should still follow. He was gentle, kind and loyal. He leaves behind an incredible legacy and helped define the ’70s L.A. scene that lives on today. Rest in peace, my friend.”

“Elliot was fiercely loyal to his friends and clients,” Dimitriades remembers. “He was friend for 49 years and a partner for 10. We met in 1970 when I bailed him out of jail at the Isle of Wight. We were both at the festival, he with his clients, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, and me as a young lawyer in the music business. He paid me back in spades over the next half a century. But that’s another story for another time.”

“I have been studying at the feet of the masters, David and Elliot, for more than 40 years,” Gerber acknowledges. "They don’t teach what these two giants have to offer in any graduate program. You’d have to go to school for 20 years to learn a 10th of what they know. I had the privilege of working close by Elliot, thanks to an introduction by David Geffen, for five years. For Bill Graham to call somebody ‘The General’ means he had the utmost respect for Elliot’s taste, determination and intelligence. Many of Elliot’s conversations started at a fever pitch, but they all ended with some kind of resolution and respect—and sometimes ‘I love you too.’

“Elliot’s instinct for what was right for an artist is unmatched, his humor unparalleled. But the thing I learned most from Elliot was to put your kids first. I’ve never known anyone with more stains on their clothes from kid-related accidents, and he was unapologetic about it. I listened to every word he spoke to me as if it were coming from the mountaintop, because that’s where Elliot resides. There will never be anyone like him.”

“Elliot was managing Bob Dylan, and I was the lawyer representing Bob in a major renegotiation,” renowned music attorney Allen Grubman remembers. “I realized what a great manager Elliot was when he was able to bridge the gap between Bob and myself through his sensitive understanding of what the artist’s needs were regarding the deal. Elliot’s deeply intuitive understanding of what was on Bob’s mind made him a great communicator and enabled me to make the kind of deal that Bob wanted at the time. Elliot was a great guy, a real friend and truly and iconic manager. He will be missed by many.”

Former Atlantic President Jerry Greenberg has cherished memories of his own: “I worked very closely with Elliot when Atlantic started Asylum Records and he was partners with David Geffen. He was a great manager and executive, and also one of the truly amazing gentlemen in our business. He knew talent and how to help them grow. He was one of the best managers of all time. We stayed friends to this day.”  

“Elliot's passing is like losing a member of my family,” says legendary Warner Bros. Records head Mo Ostin, who signed Mitchell and Young. “He was a major influence on Warner Bros. Records and me personally, both as a manager and as our partner in Geffen Records. In fact, it is a major loss to music and the music business; he was one of the greatest managers and entrepreneurs in its history.” 

“The guy was just an amazing character,” says longtime Warner Bros. President and creative head Lenny Waronker, “and the amount of loyalty, and the trust that he earned because of that, was something that doesn’t happen often. He was so funny, so smart and sharp; there was always that sense of humor. There are people that are funny and then there are people that are really funny, and he was one of those. He was able to get things done and to get people to listen to him, which is not easy. I wasn't somebody who hung with Elliot, but we had a 40-year relationship, and he was always incredibly nice. I could sort of pick up why he was able to command such loyalty, not only from his artists, but because he understood what it was—because he had it as well.

“It was always fun to see him—that smile and those eyes. But he was there at the beginning and really took advantage of it; he absolutely understood the culture in the early ’70s. And he went on to build a wonderful management company. But it's a really big loss for younger managers who didn't get a chance to bump into him or talk to him—because there's so much there, and so much of what he did is even more relevant now than it was then. Just the ability to really fight for somebody he believed in. And to me, that was the thing that always made it easy and fun to have a meeting with Elliot, because you believed him and he was always on a mission for his artists. To have the kind of relationship with Neil over as many years as they'd been together says a lot. This is really a rough one, because I think most people who knew him pretty much had the same feeling.”

That sparkle in Elliot’s eyes bespoke his rarefied intelligence; it could be welcoming and conspiratorial, in acknowledgment of a shared view of reality, but it could also be intimidating—the manifestation of his highly developed shit detector. You didn’t want to be on the receiving end of his vitriol if you didn’t have your act together or stretched the truth. He would eviscerate you.  

Roberts figures prominently in Waiting for the Sun (1996), Barney Hoskyns’ history of the glory days of the L.A. business. “Sitting in the Santa Monica office of the former Elliot Rabinowitz—lean and tanned, with sun-bleached hair and biker boots—Roberts could be Woody Allen on steroids,” Hoskyns wrote. “L.A. is full of New Yorkers come good in paradise, guys who should have been schlepping into midtown Manhattan from Forest Hills every morning but instead took a rock’n’roll detour and lucked out beneath the palm trees. When Roberts thinks back to the halcyon days of California in the ’60s, the Bronx seems a lifetime away.”

Says longtime WBR exec, Geffen Records Chairman and fellow New York native Eddie Rosenblatt, “As a record company exec, I worked with Elliot since 1971, and through the years he was always an even-keel person—the kind of manager who wanted to solve problems and not create them. He also never created a wall between his artists and the record company, and anytime I wanted to have a meeting with Neil or Joni or whoever, he always set it up for me. He was a wonderful person and terrific manager.”

“I had the honor of representing his clients over a 50-year period,” longtime U.K. promoter Barry Dickins tells us. “Elliot was family, and we will miss him. I have been through the screaming and better still his incredible sense of humor. Elliot and Neil were the greatest double act. Elliot always protected his clients in all aspects, a real artist manager; he pushed everyone really hard in order to protect his clients’ integrity. I only spoke with Elliot on Wednesday, and I still can’t believe I will not see him again. I am not sure we will ever see the likes of Elliot Roberts again. Basically, I loved the man.”

“Elliot always had a smile—or was that a smirk?—that let you he was in control,” onetime WBR President Phil Quartararo offers. “He was sharp as a tack and one of the wittiest, kindest guys our business ever knew. He will genuinely be missed.”

“I ran into him during his last week and we had a few minutes to chat,” says recently retired concert promoter Larry Vallon. “He looked great, and we spoke about the Echo in the Canyon film, which we both loved. Also spoke about his family and how proud he is of his children and grandchildren. It is so sad that he has passed away. Our business has lost a giant.”

“I am deeply saddened by the news of the sudden loss of our dear friend, Elliot Roberts,” Dana York Petty, Tom Petty’s widow, writes on Facebook. “He was Neil Young’s manager for over 40 years and Tommy’s manager early on, among others. He was an absolute gem of a guy. My heart goes out to Neil, Elliot’s partner Dana, his sons, Tony Dimitriades, and his many friends. Rest easy, pal. I will never forget Super Bowl Sunday s at his house on Malibu Road. ❤️ The world without Elliot is impossible to imagine.”

“When we were starting MTV, we were struggling,” iHeartMedia’s John Sykes recalls, “but Lookout Management embraced us immediately. Their offices on Sunset looked like a treehouse. You would see Tom Petty walking the hallway with Tony Dimitriades, Ric Ocasek hanging out in Bill Gerber’s office. One day Neil came in and spray-painted ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ on Elliot’s office door. It was exactly what you pictured the rock ’n’ roll business to look like.”

“Elliot Roberts was the probably the kindest, gentlest, and far and away the funniest man I ever worked with in show business,” Stephen Stills said in a statement. He was also tough as a barbed-wire fence, fiercely loyal and keenly observant; guarding the best interests of his clients with uncommon tenacity and skill.

“But his greatest gift was his soulful, open heart. No doubt it was the source of his sensitivity and singular understanding of the courageous honesty with which a great artist willingly reveals their soul and transports us. He allowed himself to feel the vulnerability of being fully immersed in the moment, yet oddly untethered. It is a profound experience and not easily undertaken. I have seen him do it, and felt him with me, swimming in the ether.

“Elliot Roberts possessed a unique ability to recognize a great artist when he saw one. His natural empathy was perfectly suited for his emergence as an enormously impactful personal manager to a collection of the most legendary artists of our time.

“I am honored to have been his friend, forever grateful that he chose to represent me. I truly loved Elliot Roberts and shall miss him beyond measure.”

Graham Nash also weighed in: “Elliot was a funny, brilliant friend and devoted manager. His life touched many people, and he brought forth the best in people. He was the glue that kept CSNY together in our early years, and I will certainly miss him with sadness in my heart.”

“The day I left Warner Bros. Records in 2006,” Bill Bentley writes, “Elliot Roberts called and asked if I wanted to come work for him and Neil Young. I asked what he wanted me to do, and he said, ‘Who knows? We'll find something.’ Elliot knew that in the music business, the worst thing you can be is unemployed. Three days later, I went to work at Lookout Management. He was the best friend you could ever ask for. And as Neil once told me, ‘In reality, I manage Elliot.’ Neil wasn't completely kidding. There was never anyone like Elliot before him, and there surely will never be another one after. Whip-smart and funnier than anyone else.

“I told him 10 years ago I wanted to write his biography. He just laughed and said there was no way he could tell all the stories. Then I said I had a title for it: The Manager. He stopped, got a big smile on his face and said, “Ooh, that's good.” I thought I had him. But then he just shook his head and said no.

“His loyalty to his artists was unmovable. He taught me that and so very much more. A month ago, I was invited out to his home office. We sat on the big couches and talked, and just shared some sweet time together. And then we hugged, I told him I loved him and left. In Elliot's sometimes subtle way, maybe he was saying goodbye. Or maybe he just wanted to share some memories and laughs.

“Driving away, I felt like the luckiest man in the world to be his friend and share all those years. I used to call him The ER, because things were ALWAYS happening in the world of Mr. Roberts.”

Among his myriad virtues, Elliot was also renowned for having the best weed in town—and when you went to see him, it wouldn’t be long before he fired one up. Feel free to fire one up in his honor right now.

Please don't hesitate to send your remembrances and/or photos to bud.scoppa@hitsmagazine.com 

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