Egmont "Monti" Lüftner, formerly chairman of Arista Records, RCA Ariola and co-chairman of the Bertelsmann Music Group who worked with artists including Whitney Houston, has died at the age of 77 after he was hit by a truck at a recycling depot near Munich.

Austrian-born Lüftner, who died yesterday (May 7), was one of the most charismatic personalities in the music business. In 1959 he founded the record company Ariola in Austria and Germany. From 1969, he built up the Ariola company in Europe and the U.S. and from the beginning of 1978 he was on the board of the media group Bertelsmann and became responsible for the worldwide activities of the Bertelsmann Music Group.

As chairman of Arista Records, he worked with Clive Davis from 1979. He discovered acts including Udo Jürgens, Peter Alexander and Boney M and was closely involved in Whitney Houston's career in Germany.

In 1990 Lüftner was vice chairman BMG and worldwide president A&R, president and CEO of BMG Ariola GSA (Germany, Switzerland, Austria). In 1991, he left BMG at the age of 60 and founded his own Monti Media Consulting in Munich.

The post-war founder of Bertelsmann, Reinhard Mohn, and his wife Liz issued a statement to say they are deeply distressed about the death of their friend. Their statement reads: "Monti Lüftner will always be a part of the history of our company. He was a sought after advisor and good friend to all of us. We mourn a wonderful person."

Hartmut Ostrowski, CEO of Bertelsmann AG, underlined Lüftner's entrepreneurial skills. "Hardly anyone else was able to combine artistic creativity with entrepreneurial skill as successfully as he did," said Ostrowski. "He supported me personally as well as the company with his advice right up to the end. We will miss him."

German publication Bunte quotes Whitney Houston's tribute to Lüftner. "Monti Lüftner was when I met him, already a legend in the music business," said Houston, noting his "kindness and generosity" in supporting her career. "I will miss him immensely," she said.

Lüftner was not married but is survived by a daughter of 15.