Japanese entertainment mogul Johnny Kitagawa dies at age 87

Kyodo News

Posted at Jul 10 2019 01:29 AM

TOKYO - Japanese music mogul Johnny Kitagawa, who shaped Japan's boy band landscape for more than half a century, died of a stroke on Tuesday at a hospital in Tokyo, his office said. He was 87.

Kitagawa, who founded Japan's top male talent agency and production company Johnny & Associates Inc. in 1962, had been in hospital since June 18 due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of stroke.

He propelled one pop group after another to fame. His most successful acts -- such as SMAP, Arashi, KAT-TUN and Hey! Say! JUMP -- are household names across the country.

Kitagawa spent his last days chatting with some of the senior talent and trainees who were like his "children" at his hospital room, with various hit tunes by groups he molded playing in the background, the office said in a document.

"It became a daily routine to enjoy Johnny's delicacies with him and the people there, and the scene and all the smells reminded us of a practice hall...His final curtain came down with him wrapped in the love of his beloved children," it said.

One of the most revered figures in the entertainment industry, Kitagawa's hit-making strategy of not limiting his artists to releasing records, but placing them in a range of variety and TV shows, enabled him to maintain a virtual monopoly on boy bands for over 57 years.

But his career was not without incident.

He was the subject of numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. In 1999, Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun published a series detailing accusations of child abuse and sexual exploitation made by several boys under his wing.

However, he was never charged with any crimes on the basis of the allegations.

Kitagawa sued the Shukan Bunshun and was awarded damages, but the judgment was partially overturned on appeal with the court ruling the magazine had sufficient reason to publish the allegations of sexual misconduct. A subsequent Supreme Court appeal by Kitagawa was rejected.

Born in Los Angeles in 1931, the Japanese-American spent most of his childhood shuttling between Japan and the United States. He eventually settled in Japan in the 1950s after serving with the U.S. Army teaching English to orphans during the Korean War.

Kitagawa was first inspired by the 1961 American musical film "West Side Story," a story where multiple characters from different backgrounds build their relationships around one another as they sing and dance to a range of melodies.

He joined the entertainment industry with the creation of a four-man group called Johnny's. He was able to challenge the generational norm at a time when dancing was not acceptable for men.

Kitagawa was also able to deepen his ties with the entertainment industry by supporting Japanese artists, such as Hibari Misora, who performed in the United States after the end of World War II.

His efforts, spanning over fifty years, saw the creation of Japanese household names including early boy groups Hikaru GENJI and Shonentai, as well as solo artist Hiromi Go.

The new lineup of male idols became popular among female fans, with those under his wing appearing in a range of media from dramas to variety shows.

Theatrics during concerts brought the celebrities closer to fans, with moving stages and over-the-top stagecraft.

Kitagawa was the holder of three Guinness World Records titles for the most No. 1 artists, the most No. 1 singles and the most concerts produced by an individual.

He recently worked as the executive producer for the Japanese movie "Shonentachi" released in March this year.

Hideaki Takizawa, a former member of the J-pop idol duo Tackey & Tsubasa who was named president of Johnnys' Island Inc., an affiliate company of Johnny & Associates, this January, is rumored to be Kitagawa's successor.