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Helicopter Crash Kills Rock Promoter Bill Graham

October 26, 1991 GMT

VALLEJO, Calif. (AP) _ Bill Graham, who fled Hitler’s Germany and carved out an empire promoting rock music from its infancy in the United States, died when his helicopter crashed into a utility tower. He was 60.

Graham was among three people killed, Jean Catino, a spokeswoman for Bill Graham Productions, said in San Francisco today. The others were Melissa Gold and the pilot, Steve Kahn, 42, Catino said.

″Bill was the most influential non-musician in the rock ‘n’ roll world,″ his son David told a radio station in Los Angeles today. ″He started the Fillmores, which became the paragon (concert halls) of the ’60s scene, and basically perfected the art of producing shows.″

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The Bell Jet Ranger helicopter was flying over marsh lands about 5 miles east of this city when it crashed into the 200-foot tower about 10:40 p.m. Friday, sheriff’s Sgt. Jay Farmer said.

The copter remained suspended in power lines today, and the cause of the crash was under investigation. Officials with Pacific Gas and Electric said 23,000 homes in the Vallejo area, about 15 miles north of San Francisco, were without power for most of the night.

Graham, who was born of Russian parents and lived in European orphanages before he immigrated to New York City, was one of rock music’s greatest entrepreneurs.

He was a promoter for Bob Dylan and a manager for Jefferson Airplane and Santana. The Grateful Dead was among the groups that headlined his megaconcerts, such as the 1973 Watkins Glen pop festival, which attracted half a million rock fans.

He organized The Band’s Last Waltz tour in 1976, the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion tour in 1974 and the Rolling Stones’ 1982 tour. He also was involved in planning the 1985 Live Aid concert.

Graham was born Wolfgang Grajonca in Berlin in 1931. In 1939, he and his sister were sent to an orphanage in Paris.

When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, the two and some other children set out on foot for Marseilles.

″My sister couldn’t make it beyond Lyons,″ he once told a reporter. ″That’s where she stopped, and we kept on going, and I wanted to stay there. One of the hang-ups I’ve had, I’ve always felt guilty that I left her there. She was 13, and she died in Lyons.″

Graham got his start as a rock promoter on Nov. 6, 1965, when he staged a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Graham was the group’s business manager.

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Held in a loft, the show brought together the Jefferson Airplane, the Virgin Fugs, Allen Ginsberg and other elements of the San Francisco art scene.

By the following year, the crowds for Graham’s shows were becoming so large that he began holding the shows in a San Francisco skating rink known as Winterland.

In 1968, Graham moved to a hall on San Francisco’s Market Street, naming it the Fillmore West. Later that year, he opened the Fillmore East on New York’s Lower East Side.

The Fillmores served as a launching pad for groups and performers that went on to achieve national prominence, among them the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana and the Tower of Power.

Graham, who was divorced, had two other sons besides David, Alex and Thomas.