Tunc Erim, a legendary and longtime Atlantic Records executive from the 1960s until the 1990s, passed away on Saturday, March 3, after a long illness. He was 76.
While the obituary that follows, supplied by Atlantic, isn't quite in Billboard.biz's usual tone, it suits the man so well that we're printing it more or less verbatim. On a personal note, I worked with Tunc (pronounced "tunj") at Atlantic in the mid-1990s and spent a lot of time with him outside the entrance of 75 Rockefeller Plaza (where the smokers gathered), pumping him for stories about Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Cream, Aretha Franklin and every legendary Atlantic artist I could think of. A telling moment occurred there one summer day when AC/DC's Angus and Malcolm Young walked up and spent a good 20 minutes talking with us: Their respect and admiration for him was so obvious that these global rock stars more resembled schoolboys talking with a revered teacher--and not just because he was a former Olympic basketball player who towered over all of us. Tunc was truly one of a kind. -- Jem Aswad, Editor
Born in Turkey, Tunc became a basketball star in his native country, and carried the Turkish flag into Helsinki Stadium during the summer Olympics ceremonies in 1952. In 1966, he decided to begin a new life in the United States. As fate would have it, while aboard the ship crossing the Atlantic, Tunc met fellow Turk and noted Atlantic Records producer Arif Mardin, who invited him to a party that weekend in New York. At the party, Tunc saw an elderly woman sitting alone, and asked her to dance. While she politely declined his invitation, she asked him to sit with her and tell her why he decided to move from Istanbul to New York. The woman was Hayrunnisa Ertegun, the mother of Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun and his brother, fellow Atlantic executive Nesuhi.
The next day, Ahmet's mother called her son to say that she had met an extraordinary young man and asked if he and his brother could meet him and help him out. When Tunc arrived at the legendary Atlantic Studios at 1841 Broadway, the Rascals were in the waiting room singing "A Beautiful Morning." Tunc was offered a job as tape librarian for $68 a week, and the rest, as they say, is rock and roll history.
Tunc advanced from tape librarian to assistant to Arif Mardin before being named Studio Manager. He had a natural love and affinity for musicians, who loved him equally in return. He lived for the music and he understood the creative temperament, qualities that served him very well when he was made Director of Artist Relations in 1972. In 1974, he moved to the company's Promotion Department as National Special Projects and Album Coordinator, where he developed invaluable relationships with the burgeoning rock radio community. In 1977, he became National Pop Album Promotion Coordinator, before being upped to Vice President of National Album Promotion in 1979.
In 1982, Tunc took over Artist Development responsibilities at Atlantic, and in 1989 he became a Senior Vice President of the company. It was while in that post that Tunc suffered a brain aneurysm in 1994.
Ever self-effacing, Tunc played a pivotal, yet often unheralded role in the careers of countless artists and in the development of the modern music industry. Among his many accomplishments, he was an "unsung hero" in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum being built in Cleveland. Tunc knew Cleveland as a true rock and roll mecca and championed the city to Hall of Fame co-founder Ahmet Ertegun. Cleveland ended up on the short list, and eventually won the prize.
Tunc was a true mentor, friend, and confidant to countless artists and colleagues through his three decades in the music world, among them Led Zeppelin, Bette Midler, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Genesis, Tori Amos, and many, many other performers and executives. His irresistible charm, wise counsel, and sense of humor endeared him to everyone he met, and he will be deeply missed by all those whose lives he touched so deeply.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, a tax-deductible donation may be made in Tunc's name to ARTZ - Artists for Alzheimer's c/o The "I'm Still Here" Foundation," 130 New Boston Street, Woburn, MA 01801