Long-time music-industry executive and occasional actor Frank Dileo died Wednesday. The cause of death wasn't announced, but he was recently hospitalized for complications related to heart surgery. He was 63.
A short, tough, cigar-chomping record-business lifer straight out of central casting, Dileo was exactly the kind of larger-than-life character that people imagine handing out contracts and pulling underhanded deals in their big-time, major-label fantasies/nightmares. (Dileo even played a version of the caricature in the Wayne’s World movies.) Joining Epic Records as a promotion staffer in the ’60s, Dileo later became known as a proponent of “The Network,” a shadowy and corrupt system of independent record promoters that essentially served as a conduit for payola between big labels and radio stations in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
As reported in Fredric Dannen’s 1990 book Hit Men: Power Brokers And Fast Money Inside The Music Business, “The Network” helped turn hit albums into blockbusters while preventing smaller labels from gaining traction on the airwaves. Dileo’s support of “The Network” helped to make Epic one of the big players of the period, as did the unprecedented sales for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In the midst of Thriller’s incredible success, Dileo became Jackson’s manager, shepherding him through the massive promo campaign for 1987’s Bad. A few years later, Dileo was suddenly fired with no public explanation, but he ended up back in the Jackson fold before the singer’s death in 2009.
On the set of the music video for “Bad,” Dileo met director Martin Scorsese, who was so taken by this colorful force of nature that he cast him in his next movie, Goodfellas, as Henry Hill’s boyhood mafia boss, Tuddy Cicero. Other roles followed, including Frankie “Mr. Big” Sharp in the Wayne’s World films and tough guy parts in Kiss Of Death and SuperPhan. In film as in life, Dileo knew what it took to get the job done, whether it was a well-placed gift to a radio-station program director or sticking a mailman’s head in an oven.