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Rock Stars, Music Industry Mourn the Passing of Dell Furano

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

Musicians and workers throughout the music industry reacted this week to news licensing legend and pioneer Dell Furano passed away at age 71.

Furano was the CEO of Epic Rights, and an inductee into Licensing International’s Licensing Hall of Fame. He died Sept. 4 after a lengthy battle with cancer, leaving friends throughout the industry literally singing his praises.

Paul Stanley, the bassist from the rock band KISS, said he was devastated by the news. “One of my closest friends, Dell Furano, has died after battling years of health struggles,” wrote Stanley. “He fought to the end because he loved his wife, family & friends. He valued life & lived it to the fullest. My love & support to Kym and his entire wonderful family.”

Former Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne also paid tribute to the music licensing pioneer. “So sad to hear of the passing of Dell Furano,” said Osbourne.He was a legend in the merchandising business, a great friend. and above all, a true gentleman. Much love and respect to his wife and family.”

Paul Stanley of KISS (second from left) paid tribute this week to Dell Furano, who passed away after lengthy battle with cancer.

Dell acquired his reputation as a pioneer in the music industry by blazing the trail for licensed merchandise connected to popular rock artists over more than half a century. When Dell began working in the music industry, licensed merchandise was almost unheard of, but Dell pushed through an initially resistant reaction to licensing and merchandising, and helped build the multi-billion dollar industry we now see today.

Furano started in the merchandising and licensing business as a co-founder of Bill Graham’s Winterland Productions in the 1970s. “In the ’70s, it was not cool selling merchandise, so we had to be careful,” Furano recalled in an interview with Billboard magazine. “Groups would say, ‘OK, you can sell, but don’t ­embarrass us. Stand in a corner.’”

But Furano was an unstoppable force, and would later go on to work with some of the most popular music acts in history. A partial list of the acts he’s worked with includes AC/DC, Aerosmith, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, Coldplay, David Bowie, Def Leppard, The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, John Lennon, KISS, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Michael Jackson, NKOTB, Ozzy Osbourne, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, The Who, U2, and ZZ Top.

Prior to his death, Furano and his company Epic Rights were working on merchandising rights with Motley Crue for their most recent tour with fellow rock legends Def Leppard, Joan Jett and Poison. “Dell was a trailblazer in the merchandising world,” said Motley Crue’s manager Allen Kovac. “Always smiling as if he had a special gift, something new he would bring you didn’t know you needed.”

Dell began his career shortly after graduating from Stanford  University in 1972 when he partnered with his brother Dave Furano, and the legendary concert promoter Bill Graham, to co-found Winterland Productions, which became the leading merchandising and licensing company in the early days of the concert industry. Winterland Productions was acquired by CBS Records in 1985 and subsequently sold to MCA/Universal in 1988.

In 1993, Dell became the founding CEO of Sony Signatures, Sony Corporation’s powerhouse entertainment, merchandising, licensing and consumer products division. Dell directed the licensing for Columbia and Tri-Star Pictures and Television, as well as the highly successful licensing program for the France-based World Cup Soccer Tournament.

In 1999 Furano founded Signatures Network and expanded into the official artists’ websites, social media, VIP Ticketing/Fan Club and e-commerce business. Live Nation acquired Signatures Network in January 2008. Dell oversaw the Live Nation Merchandise division until the end of 2012.

In 2014 Dell and his wife Kym Furano founded Epic Rights, a leading artist services company that focused on the extension of the artist’s brands, including fan experiences, concert merchandising, brand licensing, artist website development, and e-Commerce opportunities.  The company was sold to Universal Music Group at the end 2018, but continues to operate independently today. Furano remained CEO until his death last week, leaving his co-workers devastated.

“I have been honored to work for Dell for the better part of thirty years,” said Epic Rights President & COO Phil Cussen.  “He was a true visionary—constantly re-inventing our business for changing times while embracing evolving technologies.  Through all the changes, he never lost sight of the artist, their representatives, the fans, our partners and our employees. He had a profound and positive impact on so many lives and careers.

He was a very special guy, a true giant among men,” Cussen added. “I, together with the whole Epic family, am going to miss him dearly.”

Universal Music Group also lauded Furano, who played a vital part in that company’s successes over the past three years. “We mourn the loss of our friend and partner, Dell Furano, a trailblazer who helped to guide the formation and development of the music merchandise business,” said Universal in a statement. “Dell was a true entrepreneur, and he leaves an enduring legacy.

Perhaps the best description of Furano’s work over the past half-century came from Rob Light of Creative Artists Agency, who wrote on his Instagram account that Furano wasn’t just a great businessman, but achieved legendary status because of the way he treated the artists he worked with. Furano was “the true king of rock and roll merch,” Light said. “He took an embryonic business and made it part of the infrastructure of Live Music. He always found a way to get a deal done. And always made the artist money. All while being a decent, good person, who always had a smile and lived live music. RIP.”

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