Life Member. Bass
9/16/1938 – 7/6/2019
Gary LeMel, Former Warner Bros. Music Head & ‘The Bodyguard’ Soundtrack Mastermind, Dies at Age 80
Gary LeMel, the longtime film music executive who was once dubbed the “Godfather of the Modern Soundtrack” for his supervision of blockbuster albums including The Big Chill, Ghostbusters and The Bodyguard, died on July 6, 2019 at age 80. He is survived by his wife Maddy and three children.
LeMel kicked off his executive career in music publishing and later artist management, including a three-year stint at Jerry Weintraub’s Management III. But the job that would set the course of the rest of his career was his role at First Artists — the short-lived film production company formed as a partnership between Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen — where he supervised the soundtrack for Streisand’s 1976 remake of A Star Is Born. Selling more than 4 million copies on the strength of Streisand’s Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single “Evergreen,” the soundtrack launched LeMel’s career in film music, where he would make an indelible mark over the next four decades.
Born in London, at the age of 10, LeMel moved with his family to Tucson, Arizona, where he became a member of the Tucson Boys Choir while also studying classical piano and, later, bass guitar. He eventually enrolled at the University of Arizona but dropped out to tour with jazz singer Anita O’Day, who had previously hired him as her bassist at a local jazz club.
By the early 1960s, LeMel had moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a performer, eventually signing with Vee Jay Records, which released his debut album in the summer of 1964. But the emergence of The Beatles that same year (helped along by Vee Jay’s release of their early album Introducing the Beatles) rendered acts like LeMel, who largely focused on reinterpreting standards, all but irrelevant virtually overnight.
“Their record killed my album,” LeMel told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “I was working Playboy Clubs, sometimes doing five shows a night and barely making 300 bucks a week.”
LeMel would find much greater success as an executive at Columbia Pictures beginning in the early 1980s, when he oversaw soundtracks for The Big Chill, Ghostbusters and St. Elmo’s Fire, among countless others. On the power of a soundtrack to boost a film’s box office, LeMel told Billboard in 1985: “[St. Elmo’s Fire] was dying at $25 million. When [its theme song ‘Man in Motion’] went to No. 1, the film picked up 48% and is now close to $40 million.”
The following year, LeMel moved to Warner Bros., where he would eventually enjoy his greatest success with the blockbuster soundtrack to 1992’s Whitney Houston-Kevin Costner vehicle The Bodyguard. Launched into the stratosphere by Houston’s monster No. 1 hit “I Will Always Love You,” the set eventually sold 45 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling soundtrack in history.