Kim Fowley, the eccentric L.A. producer-manager who created the Runaways, is dead at 75
Kim Fowley, the mercurial and eccentric music producer and Svengali who created and managed the all-female rock group the Runaways in the 1970s, died Thursday after a long battle with bladder cancer. He was 75.
Fowley had been periodically posting updates from his bed on his Facebook page, many featuring his wife, Kara Wright, manager of catalog development at Peer Music. Fowley’s death was announced on Twitter by Peer Music Chairman and CEO Ralph Peer II.
Last year Foley moved from the hospital to the Los Angeles home of Runaways founding member Cherie Currie, who told Billboard in September that after consulting with Wright about his health, “We agreed a change of environment was what he needed. It’s draining, yes, but I’ll always step up. It’s who I am.”
“I love Kim. I really do,” she said at that time. “After everything I went through as a kid with him, I ended up becoming a mom and realized it was difficult for a man in his 30s to deal with five teenage girls. He’s a friend I admire who needed help, and I could be there for him.”
He subsequently moved with Wright, whom he married in September, to a residence in West Hollywood, where he died.
Fowley’s memoir, “Lord of Garbage,” was published in 2013, and Times book critic David L. Ulin wrote that it “may be the weirdest rock ‘n’ roll autobiography since ... well, I can’t think of what.”
Fowley was at least as colorful as any of the musicians he worked with going back to the 1960s in L.A., where a vibrant rock music scene attracted many of the most creative and most idiosyncratic characters imaginable.
“Kim Fowley is a big loss to me,” Steve Van Zandt, guitarist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and host of Sirius XM satellite radio’s channel Little Steven’s Underground Garage, said in a statement on Thursday. “A good friend. One of a kind. He’d been everywhere, done everything, knew everybody.
“He was working in the Underground Garage until last week,” Van Zandt said. “We should all have as full a life. I wanted DJs that could tell stories first person. He was the ultimate realization of that concept. Rock Gypsy DNA. Reinventing himself whenever he felt restless. Which was always. One of the great characters of all time. Irreplaceable.”
Fowley also remained a revered figure as a songwriter, co-writing several songs on L.A. musician Ariel Pink’s 2014 album, “Pom Pom.”
Fowley, born July 21, 1939, in Los Angeles to actor-parents Douglas Fowley and Shelby Payne, scored his first chart success producing the 1960 single “Cherry Pie” for Gary Paxton and Skip Battin, aka Skip & Flip. Fowley continued working with Paxton when they created the Hollywood Argyles band, which charted a No. 1 hit, also in 1960, with the song “Alley Oop.”
The man known for his pasty white skin, pale blue eyes and slicked back hair became a regular at clubs on the Sunset Strip as music exploded and continued to evolve over the next several decades.
He went on to write or produce songs for a range of musicians including the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, Gene Vincent, Helen Reddy and Warren Zevon. He also recorded a string of solo albums under his own name.
Fowley traveled to England early on to check into the British rock scene that was igniting overseas but hadn’t yet invaded the U.S.
“One of the first who smelt something going on in ’63 and came to England,” Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ first producer and manager, said Thursday. He praised Fowley as “a leader of that American brigade and a forever part of American music.”
In the mid-‘70s, Fowley gathered a group of five teenage girls and created a then-rare example of an all-female rock band in which all of the members played the instruments and sang the vocals.
Although initially viewed as a novelty, the Runaways included three future solo rock stars in Currie, Joan Jett and Lita Ford, thanks to Fowley’s eye and ear for young talent.
Fowley also often boasted that he would do things others feared to attempt.
“One of my secrets, throughout this career that I’ve had,” he told The Times in 2012 at a Hollywood strip-mall recording studio where he was working at the time, “is [that] the word ‘no’ does not exist in my vocabulary.”
Fowley remained a controversial figure because of his relationships with adoring — and sometimes less-than-adoring — young women, which created rocky times during his mentoring of the Runaways and other aspiring musicians who came his way in their wake.
“I’m a horrible human being with a heart of gold,” he said in 2012. “I’m the worst, horrifying but lovely. I’m a bad guy who does nice things.”
A full obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.
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