Robert F.X. Sillerman, the entertainment entrepreneur who helped shape the modern concert industry, has died at 71 due to a respiratory illness.
Sillerman made his name in the music business by buying up a series of regional promoters, including Ron Delsener’s New York operation, San Francisco-based Bill Graham Presents and Florida’s Cellar Door Concerts, consolidating the entities under his SFX Entertainment banner and later selling the company to Clear Channel Communications in 2000 for a reported $4.4 billion. That created what became known as Live Nation, which merged with Ticketmaster in 2010 after much government scrutiny, and today is valued at nearly $15 billion. Fourteen years ago, Forbes listed Sillerman on its list of the 400 richest individuals at number 375 with a net worth of $975 million.
Sillerman was born in the Bronx to a Jewish family that had roots in entertainment, his father having founded the Keystone Radio Network. He attended Brandeis University, majoring in political science while launching his first business, Youth Market Consultants, offering fellow students discount magazine subscriptions and advising companies how to reach the teenage demo. After selling that company in 1971, he started I P + E, a sales, marketing and promotion firm he sold to Boston ad agency Ingalls.
With famed DJ “Cousin” Bruce Morrow, he bought a pair of upstate New York radio stations, then began acquiring a series of radio frequencies and TV stations on the East Coast and Atlanta. In 1985, he partnered with Carl Hirsch’s Legacy Broadcasting to acquire radio stations in Los Angeles, Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis, Washington DC, Houston, Philadelphia and New York. The company merged with a unit of Westinghouse Broadcasting in 1989 in a transaction worth a then-record $727 million.
In forming Capstar Communications, Sillerman was able to apply to operate more than one class of radio stations in the same market. This, in part, led to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which cleared the way for SFX Broadcasting to consolidate ownership of radio stations, just as he would do for concert promotion, selling his 71 radio stations for $2.1 billion in 1998.
At that point, the renamed SFX Entertainment held on to a pair of small concert promoters, eventually turning the company into the world’s largest producer and presenter of live entertainment, selling the company to Clear Channel for $4.4 billion in 2000. He was also an investor in Mel Brooks’ profitable Broadway musical, “The Producers.”
Sillerman went on to found CKX (which stood for “Content is King” with a nod to the X in his middle name), a company that originally sold golf equipment, but soon acquired a stake in the estates of Muhammad Ali and Elvis Presley, as well as 19 Entertainment from Simon Fuller, which included the rights to “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” among other properties. He then acquired an entertainment agency with the likes of Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Woody Allen. In 2007, he launched a failed takeover bid for the whole company with Fuller valued at $1.3 billion, resigning from the board in 2010.
Two years later, Sillerman re-launched SFX, which emerged from bankruptcy as an electronic music company, acquiring EDM site Beatport and several smaller promoters like React Presents in Chicago and ID&T in Europe. That company filed for bankruptcy in early 2016, when Sillerman stepped down ahead of a series of lawsuits. The company was eventually re-named LiveStyle.
Earlier this year, Sillerman agreed to pay a $179,000 fine to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for diverting company funds to personal accounts, while misrepresenting the finances of his online publishing and entertainment business Function(X). He is survived by his wife Laura Baudo.