Seymour Stein, Music Exec Who Signed Madonna, the Ramones & More, Dies at 80
Seymour Stein, the music-biz legend who signed some of the top acts of the '70s and '80s — most notably Madonna — died Sunday at 80.
Variety reports he died of cancer, which he had battled for years.
He described himself in his 2018 memoir "Siren Song" as a "hit man, a record business entrepreneur. What I'm not is a producer like Phil Spector or Quincy Jones. I can't play any instrument. I can't operate a studio. My exact job description is A&R, artist and repertoire, the old show business term for talent hunting."
The colorful maverick was known for signing Madonna from his hospital bed, where the future Queen of Pop arrived in 1982 to seal her deal. Having been brought to Stein's attention by DJ Mark Kamins, Stein told Variety in a 2018 essay of meeting Madonna, "As penicillin dripped into my heart, I lay there and listened to Mark’s first find. I’m sure I was going nuts in that little room, but I immediately felt an excitement. I liked the hook, I liked Madonna’s voice, I liked the feel, and I liked the name Madonna. I liked it all and played it again. I never overanalyze or suck the life out of whatever I instinctively enjoy."
He called for a meeting, and Madonna proposed coming to the hospital that evening.
"She was all dolled up in cheap punky gear, the kind of club kid who looked absurdly out of place in a cardiac ward," Stein wrote. "She wasn’t even interested in hearing me explain how much I liked her demo. 'The thing to do now,' she said, 'is sign me to a record deal.' She then opened her arms and laughed. 'Take me, I’m yours!'”
Madonna remembered Stein on Instagram Monday, writing, "Seymour Stein Has Left Us! I need to catch my breath. He Was one of the most influential Men in my Life!! He changed and Shaped my world. I must Explain."
She went on to recall "stalking DJ Mark Kamins "for a year at a club called Danceteria! In the Early 80’s. He finally agreed to play my demo of a song called “Everybody” on a Saturday night. The Club was packed. An A&R man from SIRE records was there—Michael Rosenblatt. He heard the music and asked me if he could bring me to meet his boss Seymour Stein. I Couldn’t get the words 'Hell Yes!out of my mouth fast enough!"
Madonna, like Stein, remembered the unusual setting of her signing: "Unfortunately Seymour was in the hospital for a Heart Ailment! I didn’t care. Lets Goooooo! When I met him he was laying in a hospital bed wearing his boxer shorts and a wife beater! He had a cannula up his nose and a saline Drip in his arm! He was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I was carrying my giant boombox ready to play My cassette for him immediately! He smiled and laughed when he saw me and asked me if I was related to the Virgin Mary!! Hahahhahahaa. I knew we would hit it off. I played him the song a few times. He signed me to his record label that day!! This moment changed the course of my Life Forever. And was the beginning of my journey as a Musical Artist. Not only did Seymour hear me but he Saw me and my Potential! For this I will be eternally grateful! I am weeping as I write this down. Words cannot describe how I felt at this moment after years of grinding and being broke and getting every door slammed in my face."
In conclusion, Madonna wrote, "Anyone who knew Seymour knew about his passion for music and his impeccable taste. He had an Ear like no other! He was Intense -Wickedly Funny-a little bit Crazy And Deeply intuitive. Dearest Seymour you will never be forgotten!! Thank You! Thank you Thank you! 🙏🏼 💙. . Shine on!!!"
Stein's career was more than just Madonna. He worked in the industry from the 1950s on, starting at Billboard, working at King Records, and founding Sire Records in 1966 with Richard Gottehrer.
He signed the Ramones and the Talking Heads, and worked with countless household-name acts at Sire, including the Cure, Seal, the Smiths, the Pretenders, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, Ice-T, Depeche Mode, and k.d. lang, who tweeted, "Swift rebirth my friend."
His contributions to music led to Stein's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, three years before Madonna, who warmly remembered him when it was her turn.
Stein, who came out as gay in 2017, married and amicably divorced real estate executive Linda Stein in the '70s. They remained close until her murder at the hands of a former personal assistant in 2007.
He is survived by their two daughters.
Stein told NPR in 2018, the year he retired, that he had never really given up his day job, saying, "I try to listen as much as I can to new music. But I probably don't listen to enough. But the older you get, the more attached you also are to the past. But I try to keep current as much as possible."