Pierre Cossette, the longtime producer of the Grammy Awards, died Friday of congestive heart failure near his home in St. Anicet, Quebec, Canada. He was 85.
Cossette helmed the Grammy Awards from 1971, when he secured the air rights to the show from the Recording Academy and produced the first televised Grammys show for ABC at the Hollywood Palladium, until 2005, when his son John took the reins.
His Cossette Productions was instrumental in turning what had previously been an event for industry insiders into a nationally televised attraction. It wasn’t easy at first: The evening of the first telecast, Cossette personally hustled pedestrians off Sunset Boulevard into the venue.
For his efforts, he was honored by the Recording Academy in 1995 with its Trustees Award, acknowledging his contributions to the field of recording..
He also inaugurated the Latin Grammy Awards in 2000, and was honored with the Latin Grammys Trustees Award.
Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said in a statement, “Pierre was a creative visionary and one of the most accomplished, versatile and respected producers. It was because of his passion and dedication that the Grammy Awards came to network television close to 40 years ago. But for those of us lucky enough to know him personally, we will surely miss his warmth, wit, easy laugh, and the sparkle in his eye every time he recounted one of his many great showbiz stories. Our sincere condolences go out to his family and friends.”
Among the many charities Cossette actively supported with fund-raisers and parties were the Recording Academy’s MusiCares and the Grammy Foundation.
The Grammy Museum – housed at the Pierre Cossette Center in AEG’s downtown development L.A. Live – includes a Grammy telecast exhibit with footage and photos culled from Cossette’s many years with the show.
“Pierre Cossette was our dear friend, our biggest supporter, and a great inspiration as we put this Museum together,” said Grammy Museum executive director Robert Santelli. “We’re pleased that he was able to see his hard work through so many of our exhibits, where thousands of people will now have the opportunity to celebrate his legacy.”
He is literally memorialized in the Hollywood firmament: In 1985, he produced the special “Hollywood’s Diamond Jubilee,” which spurred fundraising to refurbish the dilapidated Hollywood sign. He sold letters for the sign to prominent stars: his longtime management client Andy Williams bought the “W,” while Alice Cooper bought two “O’s.”
Cossette was also a well-known figure in the legit world: In 1978 he produced “The Will Rogers Follies,” a tuner based on the life of the titular comic that collected six Tonys, including best musical. He later produced “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War,” which collected Tony best musical nods.
He began his TV career producing the Johnny Mann series “Stand Up & Cheer” for CBS O&Os. He went on to produce series and specials with Andy Williams (who also hosted the first seven televised Grammy shows for Cossette), Glen Campbell and Sammy Davis, Jr., as well as several movies of the week.
He had previously founder-president of Dunhill Records, which had a winning streak in the mid- and late ’60s as the home of the Mama’s and the Papa’s, Steppenwolf, the Grass Roots, Barry McGuire and Johnny Rivers. He sold the label to ABC.
His management clients during the ’50s and ’60s included Andy Williams, Ann-Margret, Rowan & Martin, John Raitt, Vic Damone, and Jane Morgan. He also staged an act for Ronald Reagan at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. He began his show business career in Vegas as a booking agent for MCA – where he eventually rose to head the variety department — after graduating from USC in 1949 with a journalism degree.
Born in Valleyfield, Quebec, on Dec. 15, 1923, Cossette moved with his family to Altadena at the age of four. After high school, he served for three years in the Army Corps of Engineers in the European theater during World War II.
Cossette is survived by his wife Mary, sons John and Andrew, five stepchildren, and eight grandchildren.