Family, friends say goodbye to Frank Dileo

Michael Jackson's former manager remembered as a 'beloved,' 'one of a kind' man

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Gathered inside the Mount Carmel Cemetery chapel where Frank Dileo was laid to rest Wednesday, friends and family stood in silence for a benediction, followed by a final song.

It began with a familiar acoustic guitar intro and the words "Almost heaven, West Virginia ..."

Mr. Dileo didn't come from West Virginia or a country road and he was world famous for managing Michael Jackson not John Denver, but his sister, Rosemarie Dileo of Wexford, said, "That's the song Frank wanted us to play. He liked it, and it was special to him. John Denver was one of the first artists he worked with."

The song, perhaps, spoke to the simpler, more traditional and family side of Mr. Dileo's life, which was on display at a funeral service at St. Bartholomew Church in Penn Hills before a few hundred mourners. People who make it big in the entertainment industry, particularly as executives, are often stereotyped as gruff, hard-core business tycoons, frequently aloof from family.

PG VIDEO: Frank Dileo remembered

That was not the portrait painted of "Tookie" Dileo, who died from complications of heart surgery on Aug. 21 at 63. A collage of photos showed him playing with his children and grandchildren, tailgating with family at a Steelers game, smiling with one of his big stogies in a swimming pool, playing football for Central Catholic High School.

Of the dozens of photographs, there was only one or two of him with his superstar friend and client. If you were looking for one that would hint at his future success, it was a black-and-white portrait of him as a handsome, curly-haired boy, maybe around 10, with a hopeful gleam in his eye.

Conducting the service, his cousin, the Rev. John Micelli from Cleveland, described Mr. Dileo as "a big life in a small package."

An Italian kid from Point Breeze who stood only 5 feet, 2 inches, Mr. Dileo started out in the business stocking record store shelves and pitching songs to radio stations before working his way up to vice president of promotion for Epic Records in 1979.

He was instrumental in the success of Jackson's 1982 blockbuster "Thriller" and signed on as the King of Pop's manager from 1984 to 1989, when Jackson fired him, out of disappointment that "Bad" stalled at 20 million copies sold.

Mr. Dileo, who worked with such artists as Taylor Dayne and Jodeci in the '90s, was back on board with Jackson to manage his comeback when the star died of an overdose of sedatives in June 2010. He broke the news of his death to Jackson's children.

Today, two days after what would have been Jackson's 53rd birthday, the star's name fills headlines as the doctor who treated him is on trial in Los Angeles for involuntary manslaughter and dispute flares between the Jackson family and organizers of a planned tribute concert in Wales.

It's all far-removed from the modern church in Penn Hills, where Mr. Dileo was memorialized. The Jackson estate was not represented, but Ms. Dileo says they sent a spread of flowers, along with issuing a statement that Mr. Dileo was "beloved" and "one of a kind." There was a small contingent of New York business associates present, including Larry Stessel, onetime senior vice president and general manager of EMI Records.

"I worked with Frank for 25 years," he said. "He was beloved and respected."

Adding a rare flash of pop-star flamboyance, in black leather pants, was up-and-coming singer Manika, the first artist Mr. Dileo took on after Jackson's death. "It was so intimidating and exciting to work with the man who managed Michael Jackson," she said.

Inside the church, there wasn't much talk of his jet-setting career. Father Micelli told stories of how he would make his daughter, Belinda, and son, Dominic, laugh when they were feeling down, how he couldn't sing very well and how Mr. Dileo's father died the night his son opened as Big Jake in the Central High School production of "Guys and Dolls."

His godson, Michael Ciocca, added that Mr. Dileo "loved Sundays," imitating his voice to say, "Church and Steelers! Does it get any better?"

He recalled Tookie as a young kid going to see "The Thing" with his dad.

"When the Thing first appeared, he went under his seat and stayed there the whole movie. Who knew he would go on to produce 'Thriller'?

"His personality was larger than life, and his cigar was just as big."


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com ; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg; Blog: www.post-gazette.com/popnoise


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