Timothy White, the editor in chief of Billboard magazine, collapsed Thursday in his New York City office and died of a heart attack. He was 50.
White, who had run the music industry’s top trade magazine since 1991, was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
A giant in music journalism, White rubbed elbows with the industry’s elite and revolutionized the record charts at Billboard magazine, long considered the industry bible. He also wrote a weekly column that championed music with artistic merit and chastised producers of violent and misogynistic records, which he said harmed the culture.
White’s sudden death stunned the music industry.
“This is a real shock,” Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records and chairman of Palm Pictures, said in a call from London. “It is so rare to find a guy in his position who loves music as much as he did. It didn’t matter to him whether music was commercial or noncommercial. He loved it. I knew him well. It is very sad to see him go.”
A Fordham University graduate, White entered the world of journalism as a copy messenger at Associated Press and worked his way up to sports and entertainment writer.
He was senior editor of the groundbreaking rock magazine Crawdaddy from 1977 to 1978 and senior editor at Rolling Stone from 1979 to 1982. He joined Billboard as editor in chief in 1991.
On White’s watch, Billboard dramatically revamped its music charts, employing computerized sales data from SoundScan that produced the first statistically precise barometer of consumer tastes. The new charts shocked the industry, showing that fans were often more fascinated by comparatively unknown rap, metal, alternative rock and country acts than pompous superstars.
Initially, music companies resisted the change, but the new chart system ultimately altered the way records were manufactured, distributed and marketed. Under White, Billboard also implemented accurate radio airplay charts, using computerized technology that set a new standard for accuracy in the industry.
White also co-produced his own award-winning nationally syndicated radio series and wrote biographies on Bob Marley, James Taylor, the Beach Boys and a recently published selection of his “Music to My Ears” essays from Billboard.
Many of the music executives who badgered White with complaints about Billboard’s coverage of their companies ended up becoming friends with him.
On Thursday, record chiefs from New York to Los Angeles traded phone calls expressing sadness over his death.
“Timothy was one of the most unique individuals I have ever known,” said Tommy Mottola, chairman of Sony Music Entertainment. “Integrity and credibility were the core of his essence. The flavor and editorial style he brought to our industry’s premier magazine will remain indelible. Our industry will feel his loss deeply. I personally will miss him forever.”
White is survived by his wife, Judy, and their 10-year-old twin sons, Christopher and Alexander. His final column will appear in the July 6 issue of Billboard, available today.