Frank Dileo was at his home in eastern Ohio, just outside of Pittsburgh, when he got the phone call that would have him blowing Joe Pesci’s Technicolor brains all over the big screen. It had been just two days earlier that he’d received another, far less heartening call. With the punch of a few buttons, he’d been sacked from the most coveted job in the music industry, a job he’d held for five years—that of Michael Jackson’s manager.
It was late winter 1989, and Dileo and Jackson had just finished the grueling 16-month-long Bad World Tour. The stress of moving the MJ circus—213 strong—every three days across four continents had caused Dileo to put on considerable weight. So he headed to Duke University’s medical center to trim down and regain his health. Good thing, too, because doctors discovered he’d developed diabetes. A week into his weight-loss regimen, he got the news that he’d been unceremoniously dumped by the King of Pop.
Dangerously overweight. Diabetic. Fired by Michael Jackson. Not what you would call an auspicious turn of events. But if you ever see Frank Dileo pick up the dice at a craps table, put all your chips on the pass line—because if history’s any indicator, he’ll roll a 7 or 11. Screw the law of averages. His hot streaks make the Harlem Globetrotters look like Charlie Brown with a football.
But that didn’t stop the vultures from circling the Duke campus once the Jackson news dropped. To escape the media frenzy, Dileo headed for the refuge of his Ohio home. The following day, Frank recalls, people were calling his house to see what happened. It didn’t sound like any big deal when his wife said, “Hey, Martin Scorsese’s on the phone.”
Three years earlier, Scorsese had directed Jackson’s “Bad” video. Offhandedly, he told Dileo, the video’s executive producer, that he looked like a character in the director’s next picture. Wiseguys, it was called, based on a true-crime book about a mobster who flipped on his cronies. Dileo wrote it off as banter. Now here the guy was, years later, calling out of the blue.
“I thought, OK, he probably wants to say, gee, sorry to hear what happened,” Dileo says. “So I say, ‘Hey Marty, how you doin’?’ He said, [impersonating Scorsese’s clenched delivery] ‘Hey, you remember three years ago, I talked to you about doing a movie?’ I said, ‘Yeah, the book Wiseguy.’ He said, ‘Well, I’m casting today. Will you still do it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah. I thought you were calling because I got fired.’
“And he says, ‘Oh, did you get fired?’ He didn’t know.”
Just like that, a guy with neither acting experience nor aspirations winds up working for perhaps the greatest director of his generation in one of the best movies of the decade, Goodfellas. Not to mention he gets to turn Pesci’s gray matter red in one of cinema’s most storied whack jobs. All this, just two days after being fired by the biggest act in the business.
For anyone else, this would all be highly improbable. But for Frank Dileo, it’s par for the course. His life story has more highlights than Farrah Fawcett’s hair and reads better than half the screenplays floating around Hollywood. And in January, it brought him back to Nashville—where he lived briefly in the early ’70s—to get back into what he insistently calls “show business.” He already opened a management company and is getting ready to open a publishing company.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As Frank Dileo knows better than anyone, timing is everything.
There’s speculation that when he emerged from the womb, 60 years ago last month, Frank Dileo already had a cigar in his mouth. Look at the pictures on his office walls and in his photo albums, and more often than not he’s either holding or chomping on a fat, unlit stogie.
As a mystique-building accessory, those cigars have long since earned their keep. On the wall of Dileo’s Music Row apartment hangs a framed cartoon by the renowned late cartoonist for the London Evening Standard, Raymond Allen Jackson (known as Jak). An enormous lit cigar, so big that four men are holding it, is coming through the front doors of the Mayfair Hotel. The smoker is not yet visible. The caption reads, “I don’t know about Michael Jackson—but here comes his manager.”
Add to the cigar his gold watch, pinkie ring, manicured hands and Music Row-casual attire, and Dileo could be the poster boy for National Dress the Part Week. At 5-foot-2, he looks like he stepped out of Central Casting’s Music Biz Dealmaker file. And whether or not such visual signifiers are essential to success in the music industry, Dileo’s track record—by 21 he was RCA’s national singles director, by 35 one of the most powerful men in the business—proves they certainly don’t hurt.
Dileo’s musical odyssey began in the late ’60s, shortly after high school, with a position as a Pittsburgh rack jobber (a distributor who puts records in stores). That stint was followed by a series of brief, steadily higher-profile jobs, a rise that paralleled the sharp upward trajectory of the pubescent rock ‘n’ roll record business. First stop was Cleveland, where Dileo ran local promotions for CBS subsidiary Epic Records, plugging records by The Hollies, Donovan and Sly & the Family Stone to nearby radio stations. He did so well that Epic bumped him up to a regional post in Chicago. But it was a jump shortly after to RCA that muscled Dileo into the big leagues.
“I think I’d just turned 21,” Dileo recalls. “I was the youngest [national singles promotion head] they’d ever had. We had a great run there. We had Harry Nilsson, we had Waylon, we brought back Elvis with ‘Burning Love.’ We had John Denver—in fact, me and my boss at the time, Frank Mancini, actually talked John Denver into putting the banjo on ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads.’ One of the best things I ever did was the Charley Pride single [‘Kiss an Angel Good Morning’]. We were able to cross it over and make it into a pop record.”
Around 1972, an offer from Monument Records gave Dileo his first taste of Music City USA. “This was the real Monument,” he says, “which was Fred Foster, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.” (Besides starting the storied Nashville label, Foster produced all of Roy Orbison’s hits, gave Dolly Parton her start and co-wrote “Me and Bobby McGee” with Kris Kristofferson.) During his tenure at Monument, Dileo worked records by Kristofferson, Billy Swan, Boots Randolph, the Gatlin Brothers and Charlie McCoy.
Soon, though, the disco era of the late ’70s reared its polyester head—a trend that disheartened many record execs, Dileo included. So he took some time off and headed back to Pittsburgh. “I didn’t really fit into the disco era,” Dileo says. “Could you see me out there dancing under a disco ball? No, I don’t think so.”
Devil’s workshop or not, Dileo’s idle mind hatched a hazardous new enterprise that would soon run him afoul of the law—college-basketball bookie. Though he wisely recorded his bets on rice paper, the cops nabbed him before he got his betting slips into the toilet.
“I had nothing else to do, and I got bored,” Dileo readily admits. “Did I do time? No. Was I fined? Yes. They were misdemeanor charges. I paid a fine and there was no problem. I’m not ashamed of it—I’ve never done anything that I should be ashamed of.”
It wasn’t a moment for the clip reel. But like the stock market, the weather in New England and Pamela Anderson’s marital status, Frank Dileo’s luck was about to change.
Frank Dileo didn’t send flowers the day disco died. On July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox and radio station WLUP-FM teamed up for Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. It turned into a riot when 90,000 disco-hating fans, twice the stadium’s capacity, showed up. Fans rushed the field, knocked over the batting cage and started burning records and blowing things up, causing the Sox to forfeit the second game of a double-header. The event ignited an anti-disco backlash from which the genre never recovered.
But while the fortunes of Gloria Gaynor, the Village People and KC & the Sunshine Band were plummeting back to earth, Frank Dileo’s career was zooming toward hyperspace. That same year, Dileo rejoined CBS Records. Soon thereafter, he became vice president of promotion at Epic, where he’d gotten his start.
Over the next several years, during his tenure, Epic Records would explode, going from the 14th biggest label to No. 2. Industry insiders would say that Frank Dileo was the main reason. A couple of times during that period, he was voted Epic’s executive of the year.
“We had a big run at Epic,” Dileo says. “We worked on some really gigantic records. REO Speedwagon, where we got three or four singles off that album [Hi Infidelity] that sold 8 million. Quiet Riot. We had Ozzy, we had Dan Fogelberg. We worked on Cyndi [Lauper] real hard. In fact, I was supposed to be in her video. I backed out at the last minute. That’s why they put her with [wrestler Captain Lou Albano] as her father. I thought that if I did that, then everybody would think they had to put me in their video to get attention, and I didn’t want to start that kind of stuff.”
During this period, Dileo found a rejection pile of videos on the desk of Epic A&R vice president Greg Geller. “I said, ‘What are these?’ ” Dileo remembers. “He said, ‘Oh, I don’t think you’ll like these acts.’ I said, ‘Well, let me be the judge of that.’ ”
Dileo took the videos and watched them, then came back holding the tape of one act, an oddball British pop group led by a hulking, mascara’d cross-dresser. Dileo told Geller he liked this…this—Culture Club, it was called. “He said, ‘You really do?’ “ Dileo remembers. “I said, ‘Yeah, call them up. Tell ’em we want to make a deal.’ ”
It’s hardly suprising that Geller was initially disbelieving. Here was Frank Dileo, a tough Italian guy, wanting to sign an act that then-CBS chief Walter Yetnikoff dubbed “transvestite rock.” But despite Dileo’s macho exterior, he had a fairly open mind and—more importantly—an ear for a good pop song.
“I think,” Dileo says—pausing to reemphasize those two words—“I think I have a sense of what’s commercial and what isn’t. Even back when we did The Clash, the president of the international company forced me to release ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go,’ when I knew [the big hit] was ‘Rock the Casbah.’ So I did it. Took it to 35, dropped it. Then we ran ‘Rock the Casbah’ to No. 1, and I came back again with ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go.’ ”
Dileo’s assertions might sound grandiose, except that by most accounts they’re true. In his 1990 exposé Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business, journalist Frederic Dannen makes the case that Dileo pretty much ran the show at Epic. Of Dick Asher, deputy president of Epic’s parent company CBS—and no fan of Dileo’s—Dannen writes that “Dick was far more wary of...Epic’s head of promotion, Frank Dileo. Asher began to think that Dileo was really running the show at Epic, a view shared by others.”
Surely much of Dileo’s success was a product of his exceptional charisma. Maybe it’s a short guy’s survival skill, but Dileo has a calm self-assuredness that makes him the center of attention without really trying. You don’t make the defensive line on your high school football team at 5-foot-2 unless you’ve got some big cojones.
“Frank had this unbelievable sense of confidence,” former Epic director of publicity Susan Blond told Dannen. “Like, everything’s OK, I’ll take care of it. No one could intimidate Frank…. They always thought he was working for them, but if they had even looked at all, he was running the whole thing.”
Dannen describes one telling scene between Dileo and Yetnikoff, friends who enjoyed a little macho head-butting. Yetnikoff had been lifting weights and bulking up, so he summoned Dileo to his office for a show of strength. As Dileo describes it, “he ran from his desk and went into me like a football player. Well, he hit me hard, but he bounced off. I didn’t budge. See, when you’re short, you’ve got better gravity.”
Amusing anecdotes aside, Dannen’s depiction of Frank Dileo is not entirely flattering. Much of Hit Men is concerned with the use of independent promoters, particularly a group known as The Network, one of whom—Joe Isgro—had ties to organized crime. Dannen suggests that these third-party promoters were a way for record companies to keep their own hands clean while using guys who weren’t afraid to bribe program directors. Though he never accuses Dileo of payola, Dannen describes him as a staunch advocate of indie promo men, a claim Dileo doesn’t deny.
“This is what guys like Dannen don’t understand,” Dileo says. “That was my field force. I had 60-some people. Say 40 of them are in the field. They have to cover all the pop stations, the album stations, the AC stations. Well, sometimes it’s too much. So you hire independents to help. They can do things with the PD that the local guy can’t. And I don’t mean illegal things. I mean they can take him to dinner—it’s just the way businesses operate. It’s no different than having a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.”
At one point in Hit Men, Dannen asks Dileo about accusations of The Network’s involvement with organized crime. “Yeah, there could be one or two dishonest situations,” Dileo responds. “But, you know, it’s like, if you’re in a restaurant, right? And you order a steak, and it comes and it’s bad, you don’t quit eating meat. It’s one bad steak. And organized crime? That’s bullshit. There ain’t been organized crime since Capone died.”
Asked now if he really believes that, in light of his fact-based role in Goodfellas, he grins. “Yeah, I believe that,” Dileo says. “There’s been disorganized crime, not organized. That movie shows you how disorganized it was.”
Dileo says that, without independent promoters, he couldn’t have had the success that he did. “I could move records up that chart faster. If I had a record that took 13 weeks to get top five, I have a problem. I want it up, over, played, come down and let’s get the new group up. That’s why I was able to break more records than all the other companies. At one time, in a 14-month period, a new artist went gold each month.”
Still, Dileo’s hot streak at Epic can hardly be pinned exclusively on his use of indies. Every major label at the time had a sizable budget for independent promotion—whether or not it was a shady business, the playing field was level. Yet in a short time, Epic had risen from No. 14 to No. 2, in no small part because of the way Dileo handled a record that would become the greatest-selling album of all time. That wasn’t lost on the man whose name is emblazoned, in script, in the upper left corner of its cover.
In the wake of Michael Jackson’s free fall into scandal and talk-show punchlines, it’s easy to forget how he galvanized pop music almost exactly 25 years ago. When Jackson released Thriller in December 1982, in the heart of Frank Dileo’s Epic reign, it went on to sell more than 51 million copies. Though exact sales vary, these facts do not: The album was No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart for 37 weeks, it spawned seven Top 10 hits (tied for the record), and it helped bring Jackson an unprecedented eight statues at the 1984 Grammy Awards.
Jackson may look naive, but when it comes to business, he’s no chimp-cuddling moonbeam. In Hit Men, Walter Yetnikoff says of Jackson, “He has made observations to me about things like promotion which indicate he would be totally qualified to run a record label if he so desired.” Dannen himself describes Jackson as “an ambitious man with extensive knowledge of the record industry’s workings.”
In his 1988 autobiography Moon Walk, Jackson writes, “Frank was responsible for turning my dream for Thriller into a reality. His brilliant understanding of the recording industry proved invaluable. For instance, we released ‘Beat It’ as a single while ‘Billie Jean’ was still at No. 1. CBS screamed, ‘You’re crazy, this will kill “Billie Jean.” ’ But Frank told them not to worry, that both songs would be No. 1 and both would be in the Top 10 at the same time. They were.
Not to mention that Dileo convinced a recalcitrant Jackson to do the video for “Thriller,” a 14-minute film considered by some the best music video of all time. “Actually, he only wanted to do two videos—‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It,’ ” Dileo says. “So while I was still working for Epic, [product manager] Larry Stessel asked me to fly out there and talk him into doing ‘Thriller,’ because he was pretty adamant that he wouldn’t do it.”
Jackson, who had been without a manager for eight months, asked Dileo to fill the position on a Monday in March 1984 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Two days later, when Dileo accepted, the music industry was abuzz. One unnamed source in Dannen’s book says, “Everyone turned fucking green when Frank pulled that one off.”
Out of the record-label frying pan, into the megastar-management fire. Dileo started managing Jackson three months before the start of the Victory Tour, which reunited all of the Jackson brothers.
“Believe me, that was work,” Dileo says. “Every brother had a lawyer and an accountant. We had to have white promoters and black promoters. It was quite a complicated fiasco. But I got Michael through it safely.” Among the three black promoters: Don King and the Rev. Al Sharpton. “That was before Rev. Al Sharpton owned a suit. He was still in sweats,” Dileo recalls.
Bill Bennett, head of Warner Nashville and a friend of Dileo’s since the late ’70s, has one particularly fond memory of the Victory Tour’s opening night. “We were in Kansas City,” Bennett says, “and I said, ‘Frank, I’m going to Arthur Bryant’s,’ which is one of the most famous homes of barbecue in the world. And Michael looked at me and said, ‘Oh no, Bill, Frank’s a vegetarian now.’ So Frank goes, ‘Yeah, Michael’s looking out for my health.’ As he walks me out the door, he gives me a key and says, ‘Meet me in this room when you get back, and bring some barbecue.’ ”
“Michael used to moderate everything I ate,” Dileo says. “It’s amazing—when I started with him I was 210; when I ended with him, I was 265. So that’s what eating healthy does to you.”
After the Victory Tour, Jackson spent the next two years working on Bad. It sold a mere 32 million albums globally. Though it had fewer Top 10 hits than Thriller, it outdid its predecessor—and every other album in history—in another statistic: five No. 1 singles. In September 1987, Jackson embarked on his first tour as a solo performer, the Bad World Tour, which Dileo produced. Though the hassles of dealing with the Jackson brothers’ handlers were absent, Dileo was in for the ride of his life—123 dates over 16-and-a-half months. It was the largest-grossing tour of all time, putting Michael in front of 4.4 million fans on four continents.
“It was a headache,” Dileo says—a grand understatement to be sure. “You were moving 213 people every three days. In London, we played Wembley Stadium seven times in a row, 72,000 people a night. And we could have probably played it 10 or 12 nights, but at the time they only had seven available.”
Of course, there was a lot more to managing Michael Jackson than producing world tours. “We did a lot of things, Michael and I,” Dileo says fondly. “I got to executive produce all the videos of the Bad album. I did Moonwalker. I got nominated for two Grammys: for ‘Smooth Criminal’ and ‘Leave Me Alone.’ And I won a Grammy for ‘Leave Me Alone’—as the producer of the video, not the record.”
Another managerial coup from Dileo’s Jackson stint was his negotiation for the Pepsi commercial. “I got [Pepsi CEO] Roger Enrico to pay me up front, which was never done before,” he says. “In fact, we cut the deal on the Pepsi jet. Once we agreed upon a price, I said to Roger, ‘OK, there’s just one more thing. You’ve got to pay it all up front.’ He says, ‘I don’t know.’ And I said, ‘Roger, did Elvis Presley ever do a commercial for Pepsi?’ He said no. I said, ‘Did The Beatles?’ He said no. I said, ‘What do you want to be—0 for 3?’ He shook his head and went into the men’s room and came back and said, ‘OK, you got a deal.’ ”
Dileo harbors no ill will toward Jackson over his firing in February 1989. “It’s a shame it ended,” Dileo says. “I really like Michael. It ended for a lot of reasons. First of all, Michael and I spent every day together for five-and-a-half years. A lot of people were jealous of that. And at that point in time, we had a lot of power between us. There was one or two record executives, and a lawyer, possibly two lawyers, that sort of needed me to get out of the way, so that they had more control with Michael. And it also was a way for them to get rid of Yetnikoff, who had a lot of power and was my friend.”
It’s not hard to imagine why a bunch of industry suits wanted to get their hands on Jackson. But how was Jackson convinced? “Unfortunately, they talked Michael into it,” Dileo says, “by promising him—now this is according to Michael, and I believe this—by promising him that if he fired me and hired Sandy Gallin, that he’d be able to make movies in Hollywood. Now the truth be told, Michael never made a movie. The only movie [besides 1978’s The Wiz] he’s ever made was with me, and that was Moonwalker.”
Fortunately for Frank Dileo, fate has a sense of irony.
Some mid-level mobsters are horsing around in front of the Pitkin Avenue Cab Co. on a warm summer night. After getting the evil eye from family boss Paulie Cicero, one Tony Stacks, dressed to the nines, says, “It’s your fault.” He points to Paulie’s brother Tuddy—who’s built like a cannonball and waving a cigar in his pinkie-ring- and gold-watch-adorned left hand.
“Hey Junior, here,” Tuddy shoots back, grabbing his crotch in the ultimate fuck-off gesture.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before—it’s one of the opening scenes of Goodfellas, a movie film students and wiseguys alike can almost recite from memory. Tony Stacks is Tony Sirico, who’s been playing gangsters since he learned to walk. (He’s Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos.) Tuddy, meanwhile, is Frank Dileo, a guy who hasn’t so much as acted in a junior high school play.
Call it typecasting—not to say that Frank Dileo is a gangster, but he can certainly look the part. At least that’s what Martin Scorsese thought while directing Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video. “One day we were shooting,” Dileo recalls, “and Marty and the camera guy were talking about me. So I came over, and I had my glasses and cigar, and I said, ‘I know you’re talking about me. I can tell. What is it? Is my zipper open, or what?’ ”
Dileo goes into his rat-a-tat Scorsese impersonation: “ ‘Oh, no, no’—Marty’s kind of a nervous guy—‘no, I’m shooting this movie, and I was just telling Michael [Ballhaus, his cinematographer] that you look like this character.’ And I go, ‘Wait a minute. Hold it. You’re Martin Scorsese, right?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘And you want to put me in a movie?’ ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Come on, stop jerking me off. Let’s get this movie rolling. Where do I sign?’
“And we laughed about it, and just sort of blew it off. And then he called three years later. He remembered.”
Though Tuddy Cicero is far from a lead role, Dileo is much more than an extra. He’s got several lines, but more than anything he’s a visual presence, looking like—well, Frank Dileo. He’s an essential hue in Scorsese’s palette, whether he’s running under an umbrella in the rain, threatening a mailman by cramming his head into a pizza oven, or whispering in brother Paulie’s ear at a backyard cookout.
Or blowing Joe Pesci’s brains out. “Actually, the original scene was X-rated,” Dileo says. “Originally it’s, I shoot him, and the camera goes to his forehead—he had a fake forehead—and it actually comes right out of his forehead, and it was so bloody that they wouldn’t give us an R rating. So we had to redo that scene. It’s kind of a shame because I liked the original.”
The Internet Movie Database might consider adding screenwriter to Dileo’s profile—sort of. During the film’s denouement—a montage where Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) spills his guts to the feds, intercut with various thugs getting arrested—Dileo tried a little improvisation.
“When they’re arresting Paulie and I’m in the restaurant there,” Dileo says, “there was dead air. Nobody was talking. So I said to the FBI guy, ‘Why don’t you guys go down to Wall Street and get some real fucking crooks. Whoever sold you those suits had a wonderful sense of humor.’
“So all of the sudden, Marty comes charging through the door, and I think, aw, fuck, I’m in trouble now.
“ ‘Who said that? Whose voice was that?’ ” Dileo says, mimicking the director’s trademark scatter-gun speech patterns. “ ‘Who said that about the suit?’ And I said, ‘I did.’
“ ‘OK, great. Keep that in there. Let’s shoot it again. Do that again, that was good—both lines.’
“You know, I thought I was in trouble because I was like, who am I to be improvising in a Martin Scorsese movie. But he was pretty lenient.”
Goodfellas led to a few other screen roles for Dileo. “I think I’ve done four movies, six TV episodes,” he says. At least two of those roles were a real stretch. In the Wayne’s World movies, he played Frankie “Mr. Big” Sharp—a record-company bigwig.
Contrary to what you might expect, Frank Dileo’s Music Row office is a humble space in a nondescript building on Music Row. There’s no Mercedes or Rolls out front, just a dented 1992 Honda Accord. He’s not preoccupied with impressing anyone. In fact, he was hesitant to be the subject of a newspaper profile—“I just don’t want to come off as cocky,” he says. Several times, he mentions peers that he says he’d love to get into the story, to share the credit, and he makes a point to emphasize that he’d be lost without his assistant, Lauren Denig, whom he affectionately refers to as “Little Caesar.”
But hanging on those office walls are enough gold and platinum records to make your head spin, many of them multiples: Culture Club’s Colour by Numbers, Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, The Clash’s Combat Rock, and the crowning jewel: a case with 31 platinum copies of Thriller. Not to mention singles by Electric Light Orchestra, Charley Pride, Billy Swan, Harry Nilsson and Elvis Presley.
But the real eye-poppers are the framed photographs. Seven Goodfellas stills are arranged in one large frame that hangs over the couch. There are shots of Frank with Prince Charles, with Charlie Daniels, with Michael and the Reagans at the White House.
Immediately to the right of the door are four small photos that sum up the Frank Dileo story. Frank and his good friend, the late Col. Tom Parker. Frank and Martin Scorsese. Frank and—wait, is that him kissing Pope John Paul II’s ring? Believe it. A CBS executive in England wanted to thank Frank for his work on several records by overseas acts, including Nena’s “99 Luftballoons.”
“He asked what he could do for me,” Frank recalls. “I said I want to meet the pope. Believe it or not, as wild of a life as I’ve led, I don’t miss church on Sunday.”
The fourth shot is of Frank and Michael Jackson, from behind, standing at urinals in a public restroom. Above Michael’s head, in Michael’s handwriting, are the words, “This water sure is cold.” Above Frank’s head, he wrote, “It’s deep too.”
When Jackson went on trial in 2005, Frank stayed in Los Angeles for over three months, on his own dime. “I know that he is innocent,” Dileo says. “A lot of people attack him for a lot of different reasons. One is, everybody would love to get their hands on the Beatles’ publishing. And he’s just one of those guys, he’s real kind and real nice and he can easily be taken advantage of.
“In this particular case, this kid had cancer, he found him a doctor, they didn’t have any money, he allowed them to live on his ranch. And when it was over, they didn’t want to leave. It was like blackmail. That’s all it was.
“We talked at each and every break,” Dileo continues. “I wanted to let him know that I know he didn’t do it. In fact, when I went there, he didn’t know I was coming. It was very emotional. He went, ‘Frank, I can’t believe you’re here.’ And he started to cry. And I went over and I hugged him and we got on the elevator and he told [defense attorney] Tom Mesereau, ‘This is Frank Dileo. He used to manage me. I’ve had nine managers since then. He’s the only guy that showed up, or even called to see how I’m doing.’ That was a very rough thing on him, a very emotional thing.”
The years since the whirlwind 1980s have been a little less action-packed. In the ’90s, Frank opened a New York office and managed or co-managed several acts, including Taylor Dayne, Jodeci and Laura Branigan. And he got into the restaurant business, partnering with Robert De Niro on New York City’s famed Tribeca Grill.
“I was the first guy up with the money,” he says. “Outside of Bobby and Drew [the manager], there was me.” Several other investors had smaller shares, among them Christopher Walken, Lou Diamond Phillips, Sean Penn, Bill Murray and Ed Harris. Dileo sold his share after more than 11 years, splitting his portion three ways among the restaurant’s three oldest employees.
Since the mid-’90s, Dileo’s been keeping a low profile. He’s a family man—he’s been married to his wife Linda for 31 years, and wanted to be near his son and daughter, both of whom were attending the George School. So he moved for a while to Bucks County, outside Philadelphia. After his daughter graduated, nearly eight years later, he moved back to Ohio.
Shortly thereafter, Dileo started to lose his eyesight. By 2004, he was blind, a result of diabetic retinopathy. But a series of four operations over the next couple of years restored much of his sight.
Since coming to Music City in January, Dileo had attempted to help get the failing nightclub 12th & Porter out of dire straits. But that endeavor fell through last week.
“It’s been in Chapter 11,” Dileo says. “I’ve been trying to save it for the writing community, because it does have the best sound. But unfortunately, with the past debt, the leases that have been incurred and the obscure management style, there’s just no way to overcome the debt to make it work. So I have to pull out of it and let nature take its course.”
Meanwhile, he’s started a management company, where he’s working with singer-songwriter Galen Griffin. And he’s about to pen a deal to start a publishing company with a successful songwriter/producer. He doesn’t want to name names until the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.
So after so much success, why keep going? “I’m in it for the love of it,” Dileo says. “I mean, hey, I want to make some money for my kids. I’d like to make it more comfortable for them and my grandson, who’s 3 years old now. And I really love the music, I love the business, I love the artists. That’s why I’m here.”
Perhaps Frank Dileo was just born to be a mover and shaker, a notion that McGee Management’s Frank Rand confirms. “I was an A&R guy before [Frank] started working for Michael,” Rand says. “And A&R people and promotion people are always butting heads—they can never get us enough airplay and we can never give them enough hits. So one day I went in to Frank’s office and we started talking, and we had a constructive argument. I don’t even know what brought it up, but I said, ‘Frank, we’re in the record business!’
“And Frank said, ‘Hold on right there! You’re in the record business. I’m in show business.’ ”
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