Elliot Roberts, Manager of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, Dead at 76

Roberts was key figure in the Laurel Canyon musical artist community

Joni Mitchell and Elliot Roberts 1969
Joni Mitchell and her manager Elliot Roberts, backstage before her concert at Carnegie Hall, NYC, Feb. 1, 1969 © Joel Bernstein

Elliot Roberts, the music manager who shepherded the careers of iconic artists including Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and became one of the most influential artist managers in music history, has died, a publicist close to Roberts told TheWrap. He was 76.

No cause was immediately released and Roberts was not known to be in ill health.

A statement was expected shortly from Warner Records, where Roberts’ clients Young, Mitchell and Stephen Stills had recording careers.

Neil Young, Richard Abramowitz and Elliot Roberts attend the 3rd Annual Film Comment Selects special screening and reception of "Greendale" February 13, 2004 in New York City.
Neil Young, Richard Abramowitz and Elliot Roberts attend the 3rd Annual Film Comment Selects special screening and reception of “Greendale” February 13, 2004 in New York City. Credit: Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Other artists whose careers Roberts managed included Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Tom Petty, Tracy Chapman and Talking Heads, among others.

But Roberts was best-known for his shepherding of the careers of Mitchell and Young, both of whom he began working with early in their careers.

“Elliot is consistently there for the art, protecting me from the sharks, while sometimes being accused of being a shark himself,” wrote Young in his memoir, “Waging Heavy Peace.” “Elliot is the friend I call every day at least five times, no matter what … I am harder and harder for him to deal with as I get older and more certain of my opinions on business matters, but he still protects me from others and tries in vain to protect me from myself.”

Roberts was known for his zealously protective work on behalf of Young and Mitchell, which found him managing gifted and stubborn artists who might even be considered unmanageable. He was gatekeeper, bulldog and counselor, often keeping the business concerns at bay and almost becoming an alter-ego at times for those artists.

If Young wanted to make an incomprehensible movie called “Human Highway” when his label and his manager would much rather he focus on something that could make money, Roberts would make it happen and go along for the ride, even producing the film under his birth name.

If Mitchell did an interview with Rolling Stone and then balked at a previously-agreed-upon followup interview, Roberts would be the one to call the writer and gently advise, “Joan’s afraid you don’t like her.”  (That happened to one of the writers of this piece, and after the conversation Roberts made sure that the followup interview went off as planned.)

“Elliott Roberts one of the giants of our business has passed. May he rest in peace,” music promoter Harvey Goldsmith posted on Facebook.

Born Elliot Rabinowitz, Roberts grew up in New York, dropped out of college and ended up in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency, where he met and befriended a young agent named David Geffen.

Joni Mitchell became his first management client after he saw her perform in New York in 1966, and they moved together with her then-boyfriend David Crosby to Los Angeles. They set down roots in Laurel Canyon in the late 1960s, as an artist community blossomed. The community came to include legendary talents like Jackson Browne, Stephen Stills, Mama Cass Elliot, Frank Zappa, The Doors, Carole King and many others.

Roberts and Geffen founded the Geffen-Roberts Company and, in 1970, Asylum Records. While Geffen focused on the label, Roberts would go on to form Lookout Management, which quickly became one of the most important and successful music management firms in the ’70s and ’80s and beyond.

Beginning in 1967, Roberts also managed Neil Young in a relationship so close that Young wrote, “Elliott Roberts plays such a large part in everything I am doing that it makes more sense to say what we are doing! … I am involved in a lot of things and I am capable of screwing every one of them up without even trying. That is why I consult with my Wise Counselor on every little thing.”