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Return of The Hit Man

Kirshner is through believing the record will set itself straight. He retired more than 20 years ago, and it's been more than 15 years, by his estimate, since he sat for an interview. But he's fed up. He's going public with his grievances, and, more important, he's going back to work.

With a partner and a handful of employees, Kirshner has spent much of the last three years plotting a comeback. His ambition is nothing less than a global entertainment company, and to build it he's spending 10 hours a day at an office down the street, taking meetings, listening to new bands, negotiating with potential partners. A radio-Internet show is in the works, one that will reprise his role as the "man with the golden ear," as Time magazine once called him. There's a new software technology that he'll pitch to record labels, and maybe another series like "The Monkees," which he worked on during its brief heyday.


"I feel sharper now than ever," says once-ubiquitous, then reclusive music impresario Don Kirshner, 70, who intends to start a global entertainment company. (Joshua Prezant For For The Washington Post)

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"People are going to wonder why a guy who is 70 years old isn't in the South of France, contemplating his navel," Kirshner says, chuckling. "Well, I feel sharper now than ever. More mature, bigger Rolodex. For a long time I wasn't missing the day-to-day. Now I thrive on it."

Don Meets Darin

Kirshner lives in a large pink stucco house by the water near a golf course. A family man to the core, he moved here from New Jersey four years ago to be closer to his daughter and grandchildren, and spends most of his waking hours with his wife of 46 years, plus his mother-in-law, who has lived with the couple since her husband died in the early '80s.

He is thicker around the middle now, and he lumbers a bit when he walks. But he is still that odd combination of scenester and square, a man who drops Yiddish into tales about Ozzy Osbourne and recounts his dealings with Led Zeppelin the way your grandfather might.

He speaks this evening like a man who just broke a vow of silence -- urgently, one anecdote caroming off the next, bouncing from decade to decade, artist to artist, achievement to achievement.

He starts with his high school days, as a 6-foot-2 jock who aspired to play for the Yankees. By the age of 18, he'd written and recorded a song with a friend he'd heard playing the piano at the Long Island beach club where he was a bellhop. The song went nowhere, but a couple years later he was drinking an egg cream in a candy store when a mutual friend introduced him to a slight and supremely confident young man named Walden Robert Cassotto. He told Kirshner that he was going to be a star.

"I'll never forget it," Kirshner says. "He was wearing a stained muffler. I said to him, 'Show me what you've got.' "

Cassotto, soon famous as Bobby Darin, played a few songs on a friend's piano. Kirshner was so impressed he immediately announced that the two would team up and become the biggest thing in show business.

The beginning wasn't glamorous. Their first songwriting job was for the Orange Furniture Store in Orange, N.J., which paid the duo $500 for this ditty:

For value you can't beat

Start talking to your feet

Hop a bus and come with us.

To 205 Main Street

We're going to Orange Furniture Store.


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