Tony Martell, founder and chairman of the T.J. Martell Foundation, the music industry’s largest foundation for leukemia, cancer and AIDS research, has died at the age of 90. Martell passed away Sunday (Nov. 27) at his home in Madison, New Jersey.
Martell was a longtime label exec and A&R man who worked with Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Jett, Ozzy Osbourne, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Isley Brothers and others over a career that spanned from the 1960s to the 1990s; his highest post was president of CBS International Records.
Yet there’s no question that the Foundation — which has raised more than $270 million for scientific research at hospitals in the United States — is his greatest achievement. He launched it in 1975 to as a promise to his 19-year-old son T.J., who died after a two-year battle with leukemia. Martell originally promised to raise $1 million for cancer research, which took three years to fulfill. But, he told Billboard in 2015, his philanthropic quest was far from over. James F. Holland, T.J.’s physician, “took me around to several patients to more or less lay a guilt trip on me,” Martell recalled. One of those patients told him something that convinced him to keep at it. “He said, ‘You can live 30 days without food, seven days without water. But you can’t live 60 seconds without hope.’”
In the decades since, the organization has become the music industry’s largest foundation of its type, its annual ceremony a longtime staple of the industry calendar. Martell spoke at the Foundation’s 2016 event — on Oct. 18, just five weeks ago — saying proudly, “We have some big news tonight.” He went on to say that leukemia is no longer the number-one killer in childhood diseases, thanks in part to the work of the Foundation.
Martell is survived by his daughter Debbie Martell of Florham Park, NJ. His wife of more than 65 years, Vicky, passed away in February of this year.
“Tony’s smile, energy and incredible devotion will be missed beyond words. We will work even harder now to keep his memory and dream alive and one day finding a cure for the diseases that he spent his life fighting,” reads a statement on the organization’s website.
Memorial plans will be announced soon.