Timothy White, Billboard editor in chief since 1991, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack June 27, just as the magazine was going to press. He was 50. Timothy collapsed in an elevator in the Billboard offices at 770 Broadway in New York and was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he succumbed. Timothy is survived by his wife Judy Garlan, his 10-year-old twins Christopher and Alexander, and seven siblings.
Born on Jan. 25, 1952, in Paterson, N.J., to John Alexander and Gloria White, Timothy had a boundless passion for music and its creators that filled the pages of Billboard. During his 11 years at the magazine, he brought many innovative changes, including the birth of the Century Award, Billboard’s highest honor, which was annually bestowed upon an artist for creative achievement.
Adamant that Billboard cover not only the most acclaimed or famous artists, Timothy always saved room in its pages for new acts about whom he or staffers expressed enthusiasm, often giving them equal footing with industry giants. Among the columns intended to champion artists outside of the mainstream that were created during Timothy’s time at Billboard are Continental Drift, dedicated to unsigned artists, and Heatseekers, which highlights acts that have never appeared in the top half of The Billboard 200.
He regularly wrote about un-sung artists in his column, Music to My Ears, and was a fearless advocate of artists’ rights. He often served as the industry’s moral compass by tackling controversial music-business issues.
“The first hire I made as publisher of Billboard in 1990 was Timothy,” Billboard publisher Howard Lander says. “I needed a partner to help transform this venerable publication to better serve the music industry as it began a journey through a decade of enormous change. Besides possessing an inquisitive mind, a deep passion for music, and unmatched writing skills, Timothy led his life with the firm belief that a person had to be willing to stand up and be counted. I will forever be grateful for his companionship, courage, and friendship. We used to end most conversations with the simple phrase ‘Words & Music.'”
Screenwriter Mitch Glazer, Timothy’s best friend since 1976 when they worked together at Crawdaddy, had lunch with Timothy minutes before his death. “He was in great spirits and was anticipating his 15th wedding anniversary, which was June 28,” Glazer says. “He was the most present, alive person at the peak of his game. His last words were to my 16-year-old daughter, Shane, who was anxious about going away to Bennington College for a month. He said: ‘You’re going to be great,’ and he started to leave. He came back, hugged her, and said, ‘Rock on’ and walked away. I think that’s a perfect epitaph.”
Timothy came to Billboard with a distinguished journalistic legacy. He started his career as a copyboy, sports, and entertainment writer for the Associated Press in 1972, after graduating from Fordham University. He was managing editor and then senior editor of seminal music magazine Crawdaddy from 1976-1978. He served as associate editor and later senior editor at Rolling Stone from 1978-1982, where he interviewed such legends as Johnny Carson and Mike Wallace, as well as hundreds of musical artists.
Timothy was also the author of several books, including “Catch a Fire” — an award-winning biography of Bob Marley — and acclaimed biographies on the Beach Boys (“The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys, and the Southern California Experience”) and James Taylor (“Long Ago and Far Away: James Taylor, His Life and Music”), as well as a collection of his Billboard essays titled “Music to My Ears” (his final column, filed just an hour before his death, appears in the July 6 issue of Billboard. It will be posted later this afternoon on Billboard.com).
He was awarded four prestigious ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for his book “Rock Lives: Profiles & Interviews,” for his Music to My Ears columns, for his 1993 Century Award Portrait of the Artist profile of George Harrison, and in 2001 for his editing of Billboard’s series on work for hire and musical copyrights written by Bill Holland.
He was host/co-producer of “Timothy White’s Rock Stars/The Timothy White Sessions,” an award-winning nationally syndicated radio series.
Like many journalists and frustrated musicians, White even drummed in a band, the Dry Heaves, for many years. The group included fellow writers Jann Wenner, Charles M. Young, Jon Pareles, and Kurt Loder.
White’s office walls at Billboard were decorated with plaques and notes from artists he had supported, thanking him for his commitment to them and their artistry. Perhaps the most fitting send-off for Timothy comes from Angelique Kidjo, who wrote, “May your soul keep on singing.”
A remembrance will take place in next week’s issue of Billboard. When funeral details become available they will be posted here on Billboard.com.