Ken Kragen, Organizer Behind ‘We Are the World’ and Manager for Kenny Rogers and the Bee Gees, Dies at 85

ken kragen obituary
Courtesy of Emma Kragen

Ken Kragen, a prolific manager and producer in entertainment and a central organizer behind the 1985 charity single “We Are the World,” died from natural causes in his Brentwood, Calif. home on Tuesday. He was 85 years old.

Kragen’s death was confirmed to Variety by his spokesperson and friend Cheryl J. Kagan.

“While I am of course immensely proud of everything he has accomplished professionally, he has also been the best dad to me that I could have ever asked for,” Ken Kragen’s daughter, Emma Kragen, said in a statement.

Kragen was born in Alameda, Calif. on Nov. 24, 1936. Kragen graduated from Harvard Business School before embarking on a career across film, television and music.

One of Kragen’s first key ventures was the Kragen-Fritz management company that he created with his business partner Ken Fritz in the ’60s. For over five years they worked together as co-executives of the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” as well as the “Glen Campbell Good Time Hour,” both on CBS. In addition to the Smothers, their clients included Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, Pat Paulson and Mason Williams. Together, they also produced (along with Tom Smothers and Michael Butler) “Hair” at the Aquarius Theater in Hollywood. They also co-wrote the book “How to Produce a Successful College Concert,” which was published by Billboard Magazine.

Over his decades working in the entertainment industry, Kragen also managed entertainers including Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, The Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Burt Reynolds, The Smothers Brothers and Trisha Yearwood.

Kragen was instrumental in organizing the talent behind the 1985 song “We Are the World,” the landmark charity single intended to raise funds for African famine relief. Kragen was a devoted humanitarian, also contributing to initiatives like “Hands Across America” and NetAid. Kragen received the United Nations’ peace medal for his contributions on “We Are the World” and “Hands Across America.” Kragen also served on charity boards such as The Mr. Hollands Opus Foundation, Community in School and USA for Africa.

Kragen was also a frequent producer on film and television projects, including Kenny Rogers’ series of “Gambler” movies and the 2004 feature “The 12 Dogs of Christmas,” adapted from his daughter Emma’s children’s book of the same name. Kragen also produced a portion of the 1992 presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton.

Over his career, Kragen received several Emmy nominations, two MTV awards, an American Music Award and a manager of the year award from the Conference of Professional Managers. He was elected president of both The Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music, the only individual to ever be elected as leader of both organizations.

Kragen is survived by his wife of 43 years Cathy Worthington, his daughter Emma, his sister Robin Merritt and his son-in-law Zach Marion. The Ken Kragen Memorial Foundation is currently in its inception and will later accept donations to charitable causes over the coming months.