Bob Mercer dies at 65; chief executive of ‘Now That’s What I Call Music!’

Bob Mercer, a music industry executive who was managing director of EMI Music in Britain in the 1970s and most recently was chief executive of the “Now That’s What I Call Music!” venture that releases a bestselling series of hit-single compilation albums, has died. He was 65.

Bob Mercer obituary: A headline on an obituary of music executive Bob Mercer in Wednesday’s LATExtra section said he worked for BMI. In fact, he worked for EMI, as the story reported. —

Mercer died of lung cancer May 5 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his wife, Margie.

As chief executive of “Now That’s What I Call Music!,” Mercer presided over an enterprise that has sold 77 million albums in the United States since its debut in 1998. The multiple artist compilation series originated in Britain 15 years earlier.

“ ‘Now’ became a platinum-selling series since the first volume,” said Jerry Cohen, chief financial officer of what is now a joint venture between EMI Music, Sony Music and Universal Music Group. “Bob was instrumental in bringing it to the U.S.”


Mercer was vice president of PolyGram’s TV division in the U.S., PolyMedia TV, when “Now” was launched in the U.S. as a joint venture between EMI and PolyGram in 1998. A year later, he became senior vice president of UTV Records after Universal acquired PolyGram.

While at UTV, Mercer built New Door Records, a label featuring established artists such as the Temptations and Smokey Robinson.

He managed PolyGram’s and then Universal’s interests in the Now” venture from the start and in 2006 became chief executive on behalf of all the partners.

Before his death, Mercer was working on a “Now” TV show that is being developed with “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller.


Ronn Werre, EMI Music president of music services and chief operating officer of EMI Music North America, said in a statement: “Those who had the privilege of working with Bob, whose offices were on the top floor of the legendary Capitol [Records] Tower with a view of the Hollywood sign, knew him to be a positive force, a mentor to many, loyal and generous and straightforward.”

Mercer was product manager for General Foods in Britain when he was lured away by EMI to become its marketing director in the early 1970s. He soon became managing director.

During Mercer’s tenure at EMI, he signed artists such as Queen, the Sex Pistols, Olivia Newton-John, Kate Bush and Marc Bolan.

“He had the most marvelous stories he could tell you,” Cohen said. “He lived in an apartment EMI owned next to Abbey Road studios in London. He got to be friends with John Lennon, and he’d be apt to hang out with many of the greatest artists in the music industry.”

Mercer left EMI in 1980 and worked for EMI Films before becoming manager for artists such as Roger Waters and (briefly) Paul McCartney.

In the early ‘90s, he moved to Nashville to help launch and run Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Records.

Mercer was born Oct. 17, 1944, in Preston, Lancashire, England. After receiving a business degree in statistics from the University of Manchester, he went to work for General Foods.

He is survived by his wife of 31 years, Margie; his son, Jackson, who works at Beverly Hills-based Concord Music Group; and a brother, Mick.


A memorial service is pending.

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