UPDATED: Gary Stewart, a veteran of Rhino Records and Apple Music and a widely known figure on the Los Angeles rock scene for more than 40 years, has died, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office confirmed to Variety. He was 62. The Santa Monica Police Department confirmed that he died by suicide.
A Los Angeles native, Stewart worked behind the counter from the mid-‘70s at Rhino Records’ store on Westwood Boulevard, a music hub not unlike the one depicted in the book and film “High Fidelity.” He was an archetypal “record store guy” who loved little more than “turning people on” to music or films that he thought they would love. That quality remained with Stewart until the end of his life.
Stewart soon moved to Rhino’s fast-growing record company, where he was one of the first people hired by founders Harold Bronson and Richard Foos, and ultimately rose to the position of Senior VP of A&R for Rhino Entertainment. During his tenure at the label, Rhino, which was ultimately purchased by Warner Music, became the most prominent reissue label in the U.S. Stewart was a key force behind the company’s cross-licensed boxed sets; he also oversaw Rhino’s reissue campaign devoted to Elvis Costello. He spearheaded Rhino’s move into contemporary music, signing such acts as singer-songwriter Cindy Lee Berryhill.
Stewart was also deeply involved in Rhino’s charity efforts — the company required employees to dedicate a day or two to community service every year — and in recent years worked closely with the Community Coalition and was chairman of the Liberty Hill Foundation. Over the years he was also involved with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and served on the board of the Social Venture Network, a nonprofit organization of socially responsible business leaders. His extensive charity work earned him a tribute from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who called him “a true champion of justice, a model of modesty, and most of all, our dear friend. L.A. is better off for everything he did.”
Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, executive producers of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” said in a statement to Variety: “We are deeply saddened by the death of our friend Gary Stewart. His generosity and enthusiasms were infectious. He was a tireless warrior for social causes and fought injustice every day of his life. He was a magic genie with a trunk full of CD’s and a love of music that was unparalleled. He produced our ‘Gilmore’ soundtrack with as much energy and devotion as if it was ‘The White Album,’ and will continue to be an influence on the sounds of ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.’ He was the best of the best.”
Current Rhino President Mark Pinkus said: “Gary Stewart was a great man and a dear friend. He was truly the architect and guiding spirit of Rhino. He defined what it meant to be a catalog label… not only for Rhino, but for the entire music industry. His passion for music and meticulous curation still provide the template for how we approach our releases to this day. He was not only the creative backbone of Rhino, but he also set the standard for our social consciousness and was a leader in the community whose impact will be felt for decades to come. If you have ever enjoyed a rare demo or b-side that you never knew existed, or marveled at holding a beautiful boxed set from one of your favorite artists, then you owe a debt of gratitude to Gary Stewart. Rest in peace my friend.”
In recent years Stewart worked two separate stints at Apple Music, where he applied his voluminous musical knowledge to catalog curation for iTunes. Apple Music’s David Dorn, his friend and longtime colleague, said in a statement to Variety, “I had the good fortune of working with Gary Stewart twice in my career: the first time at the great Rhino Records, and more recently at iTunes and Apple Music. Gary was a wonderfully complex person who wore his heart on his sleeve. He was smart, funny, challenging, and passionate. He was an incredibly generous person who truly cared about making a difference in everything he did, whether that was in his work in music, or his work in the community. I will miss him as a friend and colleague.”
In 2014, with former Rhino label colleague David Gorman, Stewart inaugurated the music and pop culture web site Trunkworthy, which took its name from Stewart’s penchant for keeping his car trunk filled with CDs and videos that he would give to his friends to share his enthusiasm for them.
A bachelor, Stewart was renowned for his generous spirit — friends recall him buying dozens of tickets to Sparks concerts and the annual Wild Honey benefits for autism research and giving them away because he thought people should see those shows. His “Losers’ Christmas” parties — which began in the early ‘80s as a seasonal get-together for his friends in his small apartment on Christmas Day — became over the course of more than 30 years a large event in his Santa Monica backyard that drew a crowd of musicians, record business executives and other friends. He would hold court in his open garage, occasionally leaving to grab a CD or DVD boxed set as a gift for a guest.
He is survived by his brother Mark.