As news of Orlando Puerta’s death ripples through the music industry, those who knew the longtime dance music marketing and promotions executive are mourning his loss.
“I am forever indebted to Orlando and he will be sorely missed,” Madonna tells Billboard. “His passion and commitment to dance and club music had no limits and he was a very big reason I had 50 number ones on the dance charts. Thank you Orlando. RIP.”
In a video posted on April 9, Puerta was still on Madonna’s mind. She hailed him as “a very important person who played a very important role in my life in terms of getting my remixes on the dance charts, [which was] in large part due to Orlando’s passion and commitment.”
Puerta began working with Madonna when he joined the marketing team at Warner Brothers Records in the late 1990s. He did marketing and promotions for Madonna albums including Music, Confessions On a Dancefloor, Hard Candy, Rebel Heart and her most recent LP Madame X, delivering songs and remixes to the top of worldwide charts. In 2009, Puerta left Warner Brothers to start his own promotions company, Citrusonic, although he continued working with Madonna and her team until his death.
“Orlando was part of our Madonna family,” says Madonna’s longtime manager Guy Oseary. “No one loved dance music more or worked harder or more joyously to promote it. I spoke with him in February when Madonna reached her 50th #1 on the dance charts. He was so proud of Madonna. He was a force of nature who will be missed.”
Puerta passed away on Saturday, April 4 from an upper respiratory infection. He was 55. It is currently unknown whether the infection was caused by COVID-19, although a test is forthcoming. A dance music advocate since the early ’90s, he worked with artists including Madonna, Bette Midler, Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Depeche Mode, New Order, Orgy, Static X, Michael Bublé and Seal. His work on Cher’s “Believe,” helped make the song a global smash and Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit in 1999.
Puerta also became close with songwriting legend Diane Warren through his work on “‘Til It Happens To You,” the 2016 single she co-wrote with Lady Gaga. “At the time, the label wouldn’t let it come out, and her team was against it coming out,” Warren tells Billboard. “Orlando was like, ‘Let me do some dance mixes.'” Puerta commissioned 30 edits by a group of producers including Dave Audé, Dirty Pop and Tracy Young, with Young’s remix hitting No. 1 on Billboard‘s Dance Club Songs chart in January of 2016.
“He was so passionate about that song that on his own he went and got everyone to do mixes for it, and really with no budget,” Warren recalls. It was the power of the remixes, Warren says, that helped convince various teams to release the original, which became the first to be nominated for a Grammy, Emmy and Oscar award in the same year. Puerta and Warren remained friends since the collaboration.
“I loved him,” she says. “He was so kind, so lovely and lovable. Just a sweet guy. He went with his heart. We need more people like that. We can’t afford to lose people like that.”
Warren says a mutual friend sent an ambulance to Puerta’s house in Los Angeles this past Friday night (April 3), because they knew he was in poor health, although Puerta declined to go to the hospital. “He [didn’t] really take care of himself,” says Warren. “He [cared] so much about the music, and his company, and his friends, and his animals, but he [didn’t] put that same care into himself.” He passed away the following day, with Citrusonic announcing his death earlier today (April 6.)
A prolific animal lover, Puerta had recently sent his pet pig, Charlotte, to live on Warren’s animal rescue ranch. His five chihuahuas also arrived at her ranch today, just around the time Warren learned of his passing.
“In a time when we need kindness and we need good people,” she says, “to lose such a kind, good person is just tragic.”