As first reported by Peermusic CEO Ralph Peer, record producer and Runaways manager Kim Fowley has died. No official cause of death has been given, but Rolling Stone says he had been undergoing treatments for bladder cancer over the last few months. He was 75.
An iconic figure in the L.A. rock scene, Fowley first broke into the music industry in the late-’50s and early-’60s by producing records for some of his friends, as well as successful novelty pop songs like “Alley Oop” and “Nut Rocker”—a parody of “March Of The Wooden Soldiers” from The Nutcracker. He also worked as a producer and occasional co-songwriter for artists like Paul Revere & The Raiders, Yusuf Islam (though he was Cat Stevens at the time), Alice Cooper, Gene Vincent, and Warren Zevon, as well as a solo career of his own. Fowley is also often credited with starting the rock concert tradition of audience members holding up cigarette lighters, though that honor is a bit less auspicious than his other accomplishments.
Fowley’s biggest impact on the music industry, however, came in 1975 when he met a teenage guitar player named Joan Jett who told him that she wanted to start an all-girl rock band. Shortly after that, he met a teenage drummer named Sandy West, introduced her to Jett, Lita Ford, Cherie Currie, and Jackie Fox, all of whom went on to form the punk-ish all-girl band The Runaways. Fowley acted as the band’s manager and co-wrote “Cherry Bomb,” the band’s biggest hit. The Runaways fired Fowley in 1977, reportedly due to his unusual recording methods and pattern of verbally abusing the band members.
Despite bad blood from the fallout and years of legal fights between Fowley and the former members of The Runaways over royalties, Cherie Currie actually began taking care of Fowley in recent years due to his failing health. According to Billboard, not only had the pair completely reconciled, but Currie had even moved Fowley into her home so it would be easier to help him. At the time, she told Billboard that, “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,” adding, “He’s a friend I admire who needed help, and I could could be there for him.”
In 2010, director Floria Sigismondi made a movie about The Runaways’ story, with Michael Shannon playing Fowley. Finally, in one last twist befitting Fowley’s reputation as a noted eccentric, he told The Los Angeles Beat in 2013 that he was working on an autobiography that will have an epilogue written “on his deathbed,” with the book being released posthumously. At this point, it’s still unknown if he followed through with that.