Bill Gazzarri, Sunset Boulevard’s self-styled cigar-chomping, white-hatted “godfather of rock and roll” for three decades, has died. He was 66.
Gazzarri, who futilely advocated poker for rock clubs and a sidewalk of fame for rock stars, died Wednesday at his West Hollywood home of natural causes, his attorney, Laurence Ring, said Friday.
The former construction contractor first set up shop on La Cienega Boulevard in 1961 with an Italian restaurant featuring his mother’s cooking and entertainment by singers such as Vikki Carr and Johnny Rivers.
Early to recognize the promotional possibilities of rock and roll, however, he soon created his Hollywood a Go Go on the Sunset Strip. His stronghold on the Strip has been known as Gazzarri’s since 1963.
Gazzarri carefully screened but encouraged young people 18 to 21 to frequent his club, believing that their enthusiasm for the new music and accompanying dances like the twist, the monkey and the jerk were good for business.
“Many adults are hesitant about trying the new dances at first, but after they watch kids on the floor for a while, they lose their bashfulness,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1965. “The young people actually provide the floor show.”
One of his typical promotion innovations was filming dancers in action. Long before instant videotape, the procedure encouraged customers to return to view themselves on large screens.
He provided a stage and amplification for myriad would-be rock stars, and unabashedly claimed credit for launching the careers of Jim Morrison and the Doors, Sonny and Cher, Motley Crue, Tina Turner, Van Halen, David Lee Roth, the Byrds, Poison, and in recent years Guns N’ Roses and Warrant.
As the neighborhood matured around his establishment and the wide-open unincorporated area of West Hollywood became a city, Gazzarri was criticized along with other club owners by citizens who objected to noise, traffic, drug deals and other problems involving his clientele.
Gazzarri staunchly defended his young customers, once blasting off an eight-page letter to the West Hollywood City Council, Congress, then-President Ronald Reagan, and even, Gazzarri chuckled, his “Aunt Tillie in Cleveland.”
Strongly objecting to what he saw as city discrimination against his clients, Gazzarri insisted that his rockers were “the finest, kindest, most polite, decent, caring, hard-working, respectful and best youth America ever produced.”
Gazzarri, born in New York City June 16, 1924, is survived by his sister, Rose, who worked with him in his restaurant business, and by a niece, grandnephew and grandniece.
A public memorial service will be conducted at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Gazzarri’s, 9039 Sunset Blvd.