Mr. Breslin was a controversial figure in a field that is no stranger to colorful characters. Many people cordially loathed him. He cultivated a brash persona that included lots of expletives, uncouth telephone manners and a blunt way of stating facts that was not calculated to win friends.
He was also extremely successful.
When he was starting out as a classical music publicist in the late 1950s, his first clients were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne, three of the major female opera singers of the 20th century.
After hearing a recording of the pianist Alicia de Larrocha, he engineered her New York recital debut in 1966 and took over her career as her manager, even presenting her himself at Carnegie Hall in New York. She ultimately became one of the world’s most acclaimed pianists, and she and Mr. Breslin continued their association to the end of her career.
But no one could match Pavarotti, whom he shepherded from their first meeting in 1967. The callow, gifted, clumsy tenor was already being touted as someone to watch. “You’re a nice guy,” Terry McEwen, head of Decca Records, allegedly told Pavarotti. “You need a bastard to manage you.”
Mr. Breslin was happy to play that role to the hilt, as well as coming up with all kinds of ideas about how to get his client better known. At the time, many saw these moves as crass selling out: American Express commercials (“Do you know me?”), arena concerts and an absolutely terrible Hollywood movie (“Yes, Giorgio”). Today, such tactics would hardly raise an eyebrow. Mr. Breslin was not, however, responsible for the Three Tenors juggernaut, the joint performances of Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras; that was the brainchild of the Hungarian impresario Tibor Rudas.
“Marketing an artist is basically like marketing a bar of soap,” Mr. Breslin said in “The King and I,” his 2004 memoir (co-authored with this writer) about his years with Pavarotti.
“You think that’s too commercial?” he added. “If you ask me, one of the biggest problems with classical music today is that it’s not commercial enough. Nobody knows how to promote anything . . . nobody knows how to get people to want to hear this stuff.”
Like many of his assertions, it was a tough but accurate statement of things people in the business don’t really want to hear.
“The King and I” — subtitled “The Uncensored Tale of Luciano Pavarotti’s Rise and Fame by His Manager, Friend, and Sometime Adversary” — was as controversial as most things surrounding Mr. Breslin. It depicted Pavarotti chasing a girlfriend down a New York street when fully costumed as Otello and devouring a kilo of high-end caviar at Mr. Breslin’s expense and then accusing his manager of trying to kill him with rich food.