Stu Cohen, a longtime head of promotion for Warner Bros. Records, died on July 20 from esophageal cancer. He was 66. Cohen had also been suffering from having contracted Covid-19 as well as a fractured hip resulting from a fall, although you’d never know it judging from his always-optimistic Facebook posts about his progress while battling his ailments.
Cohen began his music business career in 1973 while still a teenager in the mailroom at Warner Bros. Records and worked for the label for more than 26 years, leaving in 1999. During that era, the employees who worked there referred to the label as Camelot under the rule of Mo Ostin, Lenny Waronker and other music business titans.
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A native of Brooklyn, New York, who loved his pastrami sandwiches, the affable Cohen shepherded any number of acts to stardom with his radio prowess in the ‘80s and ‘90s, from Tom Petty, Van Halen and George Harrison to Prince and Madonna.
Cohen became National Director of Pop Radio in 1982, then vice president of pop radio before being promoted to senior vp of promotion from 1992 to 1999, running a 50-person department at its height.
Longtime Warner Bros. co-worker Bob Merlis, who headed the publicity department, remembered his friend Cohen as “a believer… He believed in the artists, the music and was resolute in his belief that Warner Bros. was the best record company of them all. … Everything was personal to him in terms of wanting the best for the artists and their records and his passion was reflected in his work. He was, for the most part, irony-free as you would expect a guy who wore his true emotions on his sleeve. We were both from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, so our bond transcended our mutual dedication to the company.
“His fervor for anything related to ‘West Side Story,’ his favorite musical, was astonishingly strong even decades after he had first seen it. To borrow from Bernstein and Sondheim, ‘Somewhere there’s a place for Stu’ and that ‘somewhere,’ beyond a doubt, was Warner Bros. Records in its glory years.”
Another ex-colleague, Edward Nuhfer, who worked local promotion for Cohen and WB in Florida, took to Facebook to remember his boss. “If you worked with Stu or even more worked for Stu, you know that he was a gentle kitten that could turn into a Grizzly bear on a dime,” Nuhfer wrote. “He was first and foremost a respectful gentleman. He gave space to everyone to be who they are and expected you to do the same.”
Cohen drove a van cross-country to Burbank after graduating Canarsie High School in his beloved Brooklyn, to seek out a job from a distant relative named Mo Ostin. He went from a position in the mailroom at the company’s “ski lodge” building to local promotion in New York to SVP, leaving the company in September 1998 after a shakeup by then President/CEO Phil Quartararo. Cohen eventually joined Japanese artist Yoshiki’s Extasy Records, becoming marketing director for Three Kings/High Valley Entertainment in 2004 and, in recent years, while battling cancer, he formed a music consulting business.
At the time of his death, Cohen had relocated to New Jersey to be close to his daughter Liz and grandson Leo, who survive him, along with his ex-wife Vera Rose. Details on a memorial service are forthcoming.