Russ Thyret, one of the top executives during Warner Bros. Records’ golden age of the 1970s and 1980s, passed away early Friday after a long illness, Variety has learned. He was 76.
Over the course of his 30-year career with the label, Thyret climbed the ranks from sales, marketing and promotions posts — eventually heading all three departments — culminating in a run as chairman/CEO from 1995 to 2001. Warner was the only record company Thyret ever worked for.
The famously bald and bearded executive signed Prince to the label (after being brought a demo by his then-manager Owen Husney and local Minneapolis promotion man Clifford Siegel) and was also a noted early champion of Madonna.
“Warner Bros. was at the top of the list for us as a home for Prince,” said Husney. “But after Prince and I met Russ and hung out with him, there was no doubt where we’d wind up. Russ was a man of great instinct and heart. When other labels were taking us to fabulous restaurants to get us to sign, Russ drove us to his house, where we’d sit on the floor, listen to music and he’d explain the business to us. He gave of himself 1000% and that meant the world from two neophytes from Minneapolis.”
When Thyret — pictured above with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks in an undated photo — was named Chairman/CEO in 1995, his predecessor Mo Ostin said of Russ, “Russ is a total record man — brilliant, experienced and well-rounded in every aspect. He is eminently qualified… I love the guy.”
Said Thyret at the time, “This is my home, it’s the only record label I’ve ever worked at. To call this opportunity a dream come true would be a drastic understatement.”
Russ joined Warner Bros. Records in 1971 as a national sales rep from the Los Angeles branch of the company’s distribution wing, WEA. He was a top executive at the company during the legendary era that it was run by Ostin and president Lenny Waronker, which saw smash albums from artists ranging from the Doobie Brothers and Fleetwood Mac to Prince and Madonna. However, the company had undergone considerable upheaval at the time he took the top post, with Ostin and Waronker stepping down after a larger corporate power struggle at Warner Music. Thyret brought relief and stability at the time he was named chairman/CEO; not least of his early accomplishments was securing a new deal for R.E.M., one of the company’s franchise artists.
Thyret left the company after the completion of the $106 billion merger between Time Warner and AOL, a deal that led to several management changes at the combined company.
“My strongest ambition has always been to serve Warner artists well, and I leave Warner Bros. hoping I accomplished that,” said Thyret upon his departure in 2001. “I was in awe of Warner Bros. Records the first day I walked in the door, and in so many ways, I leave even more in awe. It will forever by a magical memory.”
Said longtime Warner Bros. publicity chief Bob Merlis, “Along with Mo Ostin, I cannot think of any executive who commanded such a level of loyalty among his staff than Russ did. He believed in his people and they, in turn, believed in him.”
He is survived by his wife, the former Rebecca Alvarez, a former secretary at Warner Bros. Records who also worked in management with Stevie Nicks, and his son Russ Thyret Jr. Details on a memorial service have not been announced.
Additional reporting by Jem Aswad.