Rock producer Don Kirshner, who kicked off the Monkees’ music career, died Monday in Boca Raton, Fla., of heart failure. He was 76.
Kirshner also managed songwriting talent including Neil Sedaka, Carole King and Howard Greenfield. His first major success story was the career of Bobby Darin, whom Kirshner helped to launch in the 1950s.
The Monkees were his answer to the Beatles and Kirshner provided songs for their TV program in the 1960s including, “I’m a Believer.” However over time the group wanted artistic control and parted with the “Man With the Golden Ear”; sales of Monkees records dropped sharply after the band split from Kirshner.
Along with partner Al Nevins, Kirshner founded Aldon Music and helped to shape the role of the Brill Building — an office building just north of Times Square where some of the biggest hits of the ’50s and ’60s were written. Aldon was instrumental in the early careers of Sedaka, King and the Righteous Brothers. By 1962, Aldon had hundreds of hits on the radio penned by a team of 18 writers, the oldest of whom was 26.
Kirshner founded Chairman Records, Calendar/Kirshner recordings and Dimension Records, notable for its release of “The Locomotion,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and sung by Little Eva.
Post-Monkees, Kirshner developed “The Archies,” an animated series based on the cartoon characters, whose musical talents were provided by studio musicians he assembled to perform hits he selected, including “Sugar, Sugar” and “Bang-Shang-a-Lang.” He also served as exec producer on ABC’s “In Concert” and later created his own syndie show, “Rock Concert” — both notable for their all-live-performances lineups. The advent of MTV cut into the success of his show and by 2000 his career went south leading to a bankruptcy declaration. He retired to Florida.
Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Sheila; two sons; and five grandchildren.
Donations may be made to the Don Kirshner Scholarship Fund, which is being established by his family for emerging songwriters (70 W. 36 St., Suite 701, NY NY 10018 or 212-239-0777).