Ken Kragen, producer Comedy Hour of the Smothers . Brothers and Kenny Rogers’ Gambler film and the creative force behind the humanitarian projects “We Are the World” and “Hands Across America,” has died. He’s 85 years old.
Kragen died Tuesday of natural causes at the Brentwood home in Los Angeles, a family spokesman announced.
Kragen manages the careers of Rogers and other top entertainers including Lionel Richie, the Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Burt Reynolds, the Smothers Brothers and Trisha Yearwood, among others.
In 1985, after receiving a call from Harry Belafonte, Kragen helped elevate the talent – including Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Richie and Rogers – appearing on the single and fundraising album “We Are the” World,” and he brought in Quincy Jones to produce the music. The project has raised an estimated $64 million to alleviate poverty in Africa and the United States
A year later, Kragen returned to the organization “Hands Across America,” a workforce chain that stretches across the United States and has 6.5 million participants. That has raised millions of dollars to help the hungry and the homeless.
He said that one of his proudest achievements was receiving the United Nations Peace Medal in 1985 for creating “We Are the World”; he is one of the few private citizens to receive this honor.
Kragen was born on November 24, 1936 in Alameda, California. His mother, Billie, is a violinist and his father, Adrian, a tax professional. He attended UC Berkeley before graduating from Harvard Business School.
He joined Comedy Hour of the Smothers . Brothers as a production coordinator in 1967, then as an executive producer on the third and final season of the controversial show in 1968-1969. He first met Rogers when his band, Kenny Rogers and First Edition, performed on the show, and quickly became his manager.
Kragen also wrote the 1994 bestseller, Life is a contact sport: Ten great career strategies that work, and with Jones, he partially performed the 1992 presidential inauguration for Bill Clinton.
Kragen has received two Emmy nominations, two MTV Awards, an American Music Award, and a Manager of the Year award from the Individual Managers Conference and is the only person elected president of the entire Association. Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.
In 2005, he produced 12 Dogs of Christmas, a full-length video based on his daughter’s children’s book Emma, has sold over 1.2 million DVDs.
He has taught at Harvard Business School, USC, Loyola Marymount, the University of Tennessee and elsewhere and taught career courses at UCLA’s Extension Program and at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music.
He also serves on a number of charitable boards including Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation; School community; and the United States for Africa; and hosted the Cisco Systems NetAid event in 1998.
Survivors include his wife of 43 years, actress Cathy Worthington; daughter Emma Kragen, a cinematographer, and husband, director and producer Zach Marion.
Worthington says: “It has been the honor of my life to be married to someone of such character and love.
Adding to his daughter, “Of course I’m incredibly proud of all that he has accomplished professionally, he’s also the best dad to me I could ask for.”
Survivors include his older sister, Robin; nieces and nephews; and brother-in-law David and Mark and their families.
A memorial service is being planned. The Ken Kragen Memorial Foundation is being established and will accept donations for charitable causes. You can contribute here now or visit WhyHunger.