Rock promoter Bill Graham is killed in helicopter crash

October 27, 1991|By New York Times News Service

Bill Graham, who escaped Nazi Germany to become America's leading promoter of rock musicians and who helped develop the mass rock concert format, was killed Friday in a helicopter crash about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco. He was 60.

Mr. Graham was one of three people who died when their helicopter hit a 200-foot utility tower and crashed in an explosion about 10 p.m., said officials of his company, Bill Graham Presents.

The charred remains of the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter were still tangled in the power lines yesterday. The other two victims were the pilot, Steve Kahn, and Mr. Graham's companion, Malissa Gold. They were returning to the rock impresario's home in Corte Madera after a concert by Huey Lewis and the News, which he had promoted.

For a quarter-century, Mr. Graham was a central figure in organizing, producing and marketing rock music across the nation and around the world in all formats from live concerts to records, films, videos and television shows.

He first gained fame in the 1960s presenting concerts at the Fillmore Theater in San Francisco and later at its East Coast spin-off, the Fillmore East in Manhattan. Eventually he shut down the theaters but continued his business, based in San Francisco.

As the popularity of rock grew, Mr. Graham pressed into the vanguard of the emerging phenomenon of rock concerts staged in large arenas, outdoor stadiums and parks.

He helped the careers of fledgling groups, and the headliners of his shows were a compendium of rock and folk music stardom: the Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, George Harrison, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers Band, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, among many others.

He also directed many concerts and tours that raised millions of dollars for a variety of social and political causes.

They included a legal defense fund for student protesters arrested at Columbia University in 1968, the 1985 Live Aid concert to fight famine, the 1976 Save Our Cities concert, two Crack-Down concerts at Madison Square Garden in 1986 against drug abuse, and the 1986 Conspiracy of Hope tour and 1988 Human Rights Now international tour, both for Amnesty International.

Mr. Graham's beginnings were perilous. He was born Wolfgang Grajonca to Russian Jewish emigrants in Berlin. Two days later, his father was killed in an accident.

When World War II began, he and a sister fled through France.

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