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Ken Kragen, superstar music manager who organized “We Are the World,” dead at 85

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Ken Kragen, the music manager who organized the 1980s charity projects “We Are the World” and “Hands Across America,” has died, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 85 and died Tuesday in LA of natural causes.  

In his career, Kragen managed stars like Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, The Bee Gees and Olivia Newton-John, country stars Trisha Yearwood and Travis Tritt, and entertainers like Burt Reynolds and The Smothers Brothers.  He also produced The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Gambler movies, starring Rogers.

However, Kragen is best known for his involvement in “We Are the World.”  In 1984, actor and humanitarian Harry Belafonte asked Kragen to help organize a concert to raise money for African famine relief.  Kragen suggested a charity single instead, and was instrumental in helping to line up the talent who appeared on the “We Are the World” single, co-written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson.

Released in 1985, “We Are the World” featured everyone from Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Diana Ross and Ray Charles to Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Steve Perry, Hall & Oates, Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis. It topped the Billboard Hot 100, became the first single ever to be RIAA-certified multi-Platinum, and raised more than $64 million for poverty relief in Africa and the U.S.

That same year, thanks to his efforts, Kragen became one of only a few private citizens ever to receive the United Nations’ Peace Medal.

In May of 1986, Kragen organized “Hands Across America,” which saw 6.5 million people linking hands across the U.S. for 15 minutes to create a human chain. Celebrities who participated included Rogers, Kenny Loggins, Bob Seger, Dionne Warwick, Yoko Ono, Robin Williams, Michael J. Fox, Michael Jackson, Brooke Shields and President Ronald Reagan. That project raised $15 million for hunger and homelessness.

Kragen went on to serve on the boards of numerous charities, lecture and teach at various universities, and produce part of Bill Clinton‘s 1992 presidential inauguration.  He wrote the 1994 best-selling book Life Is a Contact Sport, won two MTV Awards and an American Music Award, and was nominated for two Emmy Awards.

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