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Legendary A&M Records Exec Gil Friesen Dies at 75

Gil Friesen - P 2012
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After a quarter-century with the label -- he was the first employee hired by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss -– he produced films including “The Breakfast Club” and co-founded the Classic Sports Cable Network.

Gil Friesen, the first employee at Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ legendary A&M Records, who later executive produced movies including The Breakfast Club, has died. He was 75.

Friesen, who also co-founded the Classic Sports Cable Network, which was sold to ESPN in 1997, died Thursday afternoon at his home in Brentwood after a long battle with leukemia, said his wife, Janet.

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“At 5:53 p.m. PST, Gil moved gently and peacefully into the next world,” she said in a note. “We brought him home early in the afternoon, and he rested in front of the big windows in his living room. The sun came through the trees, and it was exceptionally beautiful and moving. He was comfortable, and it was an incredible honor to bring him home. Gil loved all of you as we loved him, and his spirit, and the stories, will live on.”

Tweeted famed songwriter Diane Warren: “RIP to one of the good guys and great record men, Gil Friesen.”

A native of Pasadena, Friesen began his career as a mailroom employee at Capitol Records, then based in his hometown, and served as a West Coast representative for Kapp Records. In an interview with Artists House Management in 2007, he said he was the first person Moss hired for the A&M label.

“He gave me the title; they said I was the general manager,” he recalled. “I had to invent the job. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass had just released their first record [in 1962], and there were sales and airplay [responsibilities]. … I helped put together the band that would go on the road and promote them.”

A&M went from an operation working out of Alpert’s garage in the Fairfax District into the largest indie label in the U.S., one that called the iconic Charlie Chaplin Studios on La Brea Avenue its home.

Friesen was elevated to president of the label in 1977. Once described as the “ampersand in A&M” -- Albert was the "A" and Moss the "M," of course -- he stayed until the company was sold to PolyGram for $500 million in April 1990.

Among the acts with whom Friesen worked closely were The Carpenters, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, Nils Lofgren, Supertramp, The Tubes, Peter Frampton, The Police, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Bryan Adams and Janet Jackson.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of A&M, now owned by Universal Music Group.

Friesen launched the independent company A&M Films in 1981. In addition to the coming-of-age drama The Breakfast Club (1985), he executive produced Better Off Dead … (1985) and One Crazy Summer (1986), both starring John Cusack, and produced Blaze (1989), toplined by Paul Newman.

He produced Twenty Feet From Stardom, a documentary focused on backup singers in popular music that will premiere next month at the Sundance Film Festival.

With backing from Liberty Media and Allen & Co., Friesen co-founded the Classic Sports Cable Network with Brian Bedol and Stephen Greenberg in the mid-'90s. It was sold to ESPN after a bidding war with News Corp. for a reported $175 million, a huge sum for a channel that at the time reached just 10 million homes.

Janet Friesen said the family is putting together a memorial service to be held the last week of January. Other survivors include sons Tyler and Theo and daughter Uma.