Bill Liebowitz, 63; Founded Store Based on His Love of Comic Books
Bill Liebowitz, who walked away from a successful corporate career and turned his passions for comic books, yo-yos, girlie magazines and doo-wop music into the Southern California pop-culture institution called Golden Apple Comics, died Wednesday. He was 63.
Liebowitz had been in failing health in recent months and experienced chest pains early Wednesday morning, said his wife, Sharon, who is also well known to the patrons of Golden Apple.
The franchise is celebrating its silver anniversary this year and has two storefronts, one in Northridge and the far larger and more famous site on Melrose Avenue in the Fairfax district.
Liebowitz spent his final days “watching his DVDs, the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, and surrounded by his comics and music,” his wife said.
Popular culture was a defining part of Liebowitz’s life and led to an unusual life path.
“He gave me an E-ticket ride, that’s for sure,” his wife of 39 years said.
Liebowitz’s life was shaped by a childhood in Brooklyn. The son of a real estate developer and a stay-at-home mom, he got his first comic book, “Cowboys ‘n’ Injuns” issue No. 7, at age 5.
A few years later, he was crowned the state yo-yo champion.
On street corners, doo-wop mesmerized him.
As an adult, the garrulous, 6-foot-5 Liebowitz was a certified public accountant and then followed in his father’s footsteps in real estate.
Liebowitz had been vice president of U.S. operations for Trizec Corp., a Canadian-based powerhouse of commercial real estate, but he said the pressure and taxing workdays didn’t mesh with his personality.
He left the company in 1982 and then found a job as entertainment director for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
He ended up working with rock promoter Bill Graham, and it appeared that music might be his new path. Then a friend told him about a comic book store he was opening.
Liebowitz told the L.A. New Times of his vision: “I wanted to do not just a narrow-focus store but a pop-culture store. It was an unexplored medium.”
He had opened the first Golden Apple store in 1979 and, in the comic book boom of the next decade, he found the store’s profits and joys were enough to lure him to it full time.
Eventually, Liebowitz was hailed nationally as an innovator in his field.
“People thought he was crazy,” his son, Damon, said Thursday. “But he had a vision of what he wanted, and it was a place that was so special that, if a tourist came to L.A., they would circle the store on the map and come see it. He wanted to make it an icon of the city.”
Even his old yo-yo passions came rolling back to him when the pastime enjoyed a revival in the 1990s -- the Golden Apple Yo-Yo Corps was formed and Sunday morning instruction and exhibitions brought more foot traffic to the Melrose store.
The store now overflows with magazines, comics, novelties, toys, DVDs and other items.
A fan of P.T. Barnum, Liebowitz often organized special events at Golden Apple Comics. Rock stars, wrestlers and comic book creators frequently attended in-store events; some drew crowds of more than 1,000 people.
The store’s website counts Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson and Robin Williams among its famous customers.
The store’s small adult section used to draw big crowds for the visits of porn stars (or “people in the glamour industry,” as the Liebowitz term went), but those events were scrapped because of a decline in the caliber of the stars and competition from other retailers.
“It stopped being fun.... I’m a great believer in the idea that you leave the party when you’re having the most fun,” Liebowitz told the New Times.
The Liebowitz family said they were not sure what would happen next, but they had a message for their patrons:
“We don’t want anyone to think the store is going away; it isn’t,” Damon Liebowitz said Thursday.
In addition to his wife and son, Liebowitz is survived by two sisters, Judy and Joan; son Ryan; and granddaughter Sage Joy.
Arrangements were pending Thursday and will include a special event at the Melrose store.