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Music exec Ray Cooper, who boosted careers of U2, Spice Girls, dies at 69

Music exec Ray Cooper, who boosted careers of U2, Spice Girls, dies at 69
Veteran music executive Ray Cooper, who died July 28 at age 69, helped boost the music of U2, Electric Light Orchestra, the Spice Girls and dozens of other pop music acts. (Courtesy of Martin Lewis)

Veteran English record sales and marketing executive Ray Cooper, who contributed significantly to advancing the careers of artists as varied as U2, the Spice Girls, Electric Light Orchestra, Bob Marley and the Chemical Brothers, died Saturday in Surrey, England, after a battle with a rare neurological condition called progressive primary aphasia. He was 69.

PPA “eventually robs the brain of the cells that enable all communication,” his longtime friend, author and music historian Martin Lewis said in a statement. “This is the same cruel ailment that has recently afflicted Terry Jones of Monty Python. With typical wit, Cooper condemned his illness as ‘having a name that makes it sound like a really bad ’70s prog-rock band.’”

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Cooper conducted some of his most visible promotion campaigns during his tenures with Richard Branson’s Virgin Records’ U.K. and U.S. divisions, and before that with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records and others including Jet, Anchor, Circa and Transatlantic Record labels.

Branson described Cooper as “an extraordinary, delightful individual and an incredible talent. Virgin Records would never have grown into the music force it became without him. Much, much love to his family.”

U2’s former manager, Paul McGuinness, in the same statement, said: “When U2 were signed to Island Records in 1980, every label but Island had passed. It was hard to get attention for U2 at first but we had some staunch supporters at Island — including Ray Cooper in sales and then marketing.”

The Spice Girls’ Victoria Beckham noted that “Ray’s guidance, support, creative and marketing ideas from the very beginning were invaluable to the success of the Spice Girls. It was obvious to all who spent time with Ray that he was not only a favorite to his team but also a favorite to artists and their managers.”

Cooper’s career in the music business started in 1972, when he was hired as a sales representative for Transatlantic Records, England’s first fully independent record company, and would eventually become the label’s sales manager. He went on to similar posts at Anchor and Jet Records, the latter the label that gave rise to Electric Light Orchestra ELO.

On moving to Island in 1980, he applied his talents to spreading word about that label’s acts including Marley, U2 and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

At Island, he began a partnership with the label’s artists-and-repertoire (talent development) director Ashley Newton,who created a label of their own, Circa Records, aligned with Branson’s Virgin label.

Circa broke artists including Massive Attack and Neneh Cherry. The label was sold to the Virgin Music Group, whose vice chairman, Ken Berry, hired Cooper and Newton as co-directors of Virgin Records U.K.; subsequently, they became co-presidents of Virgin Records U.S., fueling successes for David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, N.E.R.D., Janet Jackson, Lenny Kravitz and Smashing Pumpkins.

The roster of acts Cooper worked with over more than four decades also included Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, George Michael, Mariah Carey, the B-52’s, King Sunny Ade and Run DMC.

Cooper’s survivors include his partner, Philippa, daughter Becky, son Christopher-Robin, sister Pam, stepdaughter Liana and two grandsons.

Lewis said that Cooper would be laid to rest in a private service for the family and that celebrations of his life are being targeted for December around what would have been his 70th birthday.

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