Jay H. Lasker, a record company executive whose tenure at various companies produced some major pop music hits, has died at his Encino home after a two-year struggle with cancer.
Lasker, who last served as president of Motown Records before illness forced his retirement, was 65 when he died Friday, said a spokesman for the music division of MCA.
He began in the record business with Decca after Army service in World War II and was involved in the production of Bill Haley's classic, "Rock Around the Clock." He studied law while with Decca and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1951.
He was a sales executive with Kapp Records and came to California for Frank's Sinatra's new Reprise label in 1961. Over the years he worked for Del-Fi, Vee Jay and Dunhill Records, where such artists as Barry McGuire and the Mamas and the Papas attained popularity.
Lasker became president of the merged ABC/Dunhill label, whose artists included Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Jim Croce and Steely Dan before moving to Ariola America Records.
In 1980 Motown founder Berry Gordy named him head of that label and Lasker was credited with helping revive the company by promoting its classic catalogue. His years there included the advent of Lionel Richie and the re-emergence of Smokey Robinson. The MCA spokesman said it was Lasker who insisted on releasing "I Just Called to Say I Love You" after singer Stevie Wonder worried about its marketability.
Lasker is survived by his wife, Harriet, a son, a daughter, and two grandchildren.