A choir of some of the record business' biggest names--including Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss, the Isleys, Gladys Knight, Curtis Mayfield, Richard (Dimples) Fields, Neil Diamond, Carole Bayer Sager, Burt Bacharach, Marvin Hamlisch and a pregnant Donna Summer--gathered in a glass-walled chapel to sing their tribute to Neil Bogart, one of the industry's most flamboyant and successful executives, who died Saturday of cancer at the age of 39.
The service was long on music: traditional Hebrew songs, but also a rendition of what was described as "Neil's favorite song" by the officiating rabbi, H. Silverman--"Gonna Keep His Eye on Us" by Burt Bacharach.
About 250 people attended the 40-minute morning service while those outside peered through windows and doors under clear, windy skies. A touch of rock 'n' roll brought the service to all who came: Four large speakers were erected to broadcast the prayers and songs.
Earlier, another song was sung by three of Bogart's four children. Jill, 15, Tim, 12, and Brad, 10 (without 4-year-old Evan) wrote and sang a tribute to their father that began with a poem--"I love my Dad forever/he really can't be beat"--and included the line "Why is it so hard to say goodbye?"
Bogart, who at various points in his career was known as "King of Bubble Gum" and "Mr. Disco," had worked with some of the best talent in the business over the past two decades, including Summer, whom Bogart helped make disco's hottest star in the late '70s, and the members of Kiss, whom he signed as the first act on his Casablanca label in the early '70s. "He wasn't a record company executive who sat behind a desk, he was out there with us," said Simmons of Kiss. "His dreams were as big as ours," added Stanley, remembering a time when no one wanted anything to do with a group that performed in makeup and outrageous outfits. Bogart had met his wife Joyce while she was managing Kiss, and Simmons said "it was always somehow a family. His kids would critique our records and tell us what we were doing right and wrong. He was a good, good man."
Of all those in attendance, rocker Joan Jett appeared hardest hit; her current No. 1 song, "I Love Rock and Roll," is the first real success in a bumpy career that found her rejected by dozens of companies before Bogart took a chance on the plucky, hard-edged rocker.
Kenny Laguna, Jett's manager, had worked with Bogart in defining the bubble-gum sound in the mid-'60s. "Joanie loved Neil," he said. "That record deal meant so much to her; it wasn't like a corporation where you didn't know who you had your deal with. When the news came, she and the band were crying like babies on the bus."
Yesterday was to be a triumphant homecoming for Jett, who began her career here: It was to include a sold-out concert at the Santa Monica civic auditorium, followed by a lavish party to celebrate the biggest success of Boardwalk Records, Bogart's current label. The party was immediately canceled, though the show went on; at the memorial service, the slight, clearly shaken Jett hurried through the crowd in a protective circle of a half-dozen band members and associates. Clad in black and gray, she used her black leather gloves to shield her downcast eyes from the cameramen who clustered around her.
Not all the entertainers present had worked with Bogart; Danny Thomas entered at the last minute, adjusting his yarmulke, while Bob Dylan sat in the crowd without the traditional headgear. The top echelons of the recording industry were represented by a sizable group, from record company head David Geffen to managers Irving Azoff and Jerry Weintraub to radio tipsheet publisher Kal Rudman. Singer Harry Nilsson, who wrote the music for the "Popeye" soundtrack on Boardwalk, stood at the edge of the crowd in dark glasses. And just after 10 a.m., minutes before the service got underway, a blue Dodge sedan pulled up in front of the chapel to deliver California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Bogart apparently learned of his cancer a year ago but kept it to himself for nearly the entire time. Even his parents and closest friends did not know until recently, and Bogart continued to coach Little League baseball even as the illness progressed. For the past month, Bogart had been running Boardwalk Records from his hospital bed at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, where he was on the board of directors.
Silverman also read the work of the Hebrew poet laureate Bialych, a work whose title he translated as "After I Am Dead" and which included lines seemingly tailored for the still-young record industry figure: "Ah pity/for he had one song more."