Frank DiLeo

East End kid who became a Record Exec, Michael Jackson's Manager and a movie actor. 

Frank Michael DiLeo, a native of Pittsburgh's East End, was a music industry executive, a personal manager, and a movie actor. He is known for his portrayal of mobster Tuddy Cicero in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. (He's they guy who kills Joe Pesci.), DiLeo also appeared in the "Kiss of Death" with Nicolas Cage and played Uncle Sal in the movie SuperPhan.  Portraying a the high powered music executive "Mr. Big"  he appeared in the movies Wayne's World and Wayne's World 2.  In real life he was the high powered V.P. of Epic Records and Michael Jackson's personal manager. 

The Guardian describes DeLio as an old-school record industry mogul: "A beefy, 5ft 2in Italian American who perpetually smoked a fat cigar, with his hair tied into a ponytail and rings on both little fingers, Dileo was a hard-boiled deal-maker who slogged his way up through record distribution and promotion before becoming a senior executive at Epic Records, for whom Jackson recorded. His success in turning Jackson into the globe-conquering King of Pop prompted Jackson to hire Dileo as his manager, forming one of the most formidable partnerships in music-business history."

While he was touring with Jackson in the U.K.the London Evening Standard cartoonist Jak poked fun at DiLeo. He pictured DiLeo walking into the Mayfair Hotel smoking an enormous cigar so big that 4 men had to hold it up. The caption read "I don't know about Michael Jackson -- but here comes his manager."

Pittsburgh Beginnings

Frank Michael Dileo, was born on Oct. 23, 1947 in Pittsburgh.  He grew up in the East End neighborhood of Point Breeze where he went by the nickname of Tookie. His grand father and father owned DiLeo's Tavern in Homewood.  During his junior high school days at St. Bede's School he played guard and nose guard in football winning an MVP award. Only 5 foot 2 he played football all four years of high school. His first acting role was the part of Big Jake in his school's production of "Guys and Dolls".  On the night of the musical his father died from cancer at age 41.  Told of his fathers passing at home after the play he put his fist through a wall.  

Rack Jobber to Top of the Pop

After graduating from Central Catholic High School in the late 1960s, Frank worked in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant. He then became a rack jobber distributing records to retail stores in Pittsburgh. Epic Records hired him to be a record promoter around1967.  He pitched songs to radio stations in Cleveland and was promoted to the Chicago regional office. The records he promoted for Epic included Donovan, The Hollies and Sly & the Family Stone. RCA recruited him in 1968.  Only 21 he was the youngest national singles promotion head in the record business.  He promoted the RCA artists Harry Nilson, Waylon Jennings, John Denver, Charlie Prde, and Elvis Presley. Bell Records, which later became Arista, recruited him away from RCA.  He moved to Nashville in 1972 to work for Monument Records promoting the music of Kris Kristofferson, Billy Swan, Boots Randolph, the Gatlin Brothers and others.

DiLeo quit the record business in 1976 to return to Pittsburgh to marry his wife Linda. His also wanted out of the music business as he hated disco.  He did not want to promote disco.  With nothing to do in Pittsburgh he started a sports betting business and ran afoul of the law. Convicted of some misdemeanor he paid some fines and retiring from the "gaming" industry.  He went back to work in the music business in 1979 when an electrical fire destroyed his house and he had no insurance to rebuild.  He sold his Cadillac, bought two suites and went to New York.  Epic hired him back as an assistant promotions manager.

CBS Records president Walter Yetnikof promoted DiLeo to Epic's Vice President of National Promotion directing a staff of 65.  Using a network of independent record promoters Epic artists had their music played heavily on radio. Frank grew Epic Records from a small $65 million dollar company to a $250 million dollar powerhouse.  It became the number 2 label in the country.  The artists that he signed and promoted received over 80 gold and platinum awards. He signed and promoted The Clash, Quiet Riot, REO Speedwagon, Ozzy Osbourne, Gloria Estefan, Luther Vandross, Meat Loaf, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, and Michael Jackson. 

Managing Michael Jackson

At Epic DiLeo promoted Jackson's "Thriller" album that sold over 50 million copies in 1982.  Dileo devised the successful radio and video campaigns through drove the sales. The video single Billie Jean and Beat It had heavy play on MTV.  Frank make an unorthodox move releasing "Beat It" while "Billie Jean" was no 1. Both singles stayed in the top 10 pushing sales through the roof.  DiLeo convince a reluctant Jackson to film a third video a year after the album was out.  John Landis directed Jackson in the history making 14 minute Thriller video.  With round-the-clock airings on MTV the Thriller video doubled album sales. Jackson scored seven Top 10 singles  and seven Grammy awards with Thriller in 1984. It is the biggest selling record of all time.  Michael Jackson in his book "Moonwalk" credited DiLeo with playing a big role in the success of the Thiller album.

Michael Jackson hired DiLeo to be his manager in 1984 three months before the Jackson's Victory Tour. DiLeo helped to negotiate Jackson's $10 million endorsement contract with Pepsi.  To close the deal he persuaded Pepsi to all of the money up front. Frank produced and managed Jackson's solo "Bad" tour that was the largest grossing concert tour of all time. It ran for 16 months with 123 date. DiLeo produced Jackson's videos including Bad and Moonwalker.  He won a Grammy as producer of the Jackson video 'Leave Me Alone’  In 1989 Jackson fired Mr. Dileo, disappointed that his album “Bad” sold only 20 million copies and only had 5 number 1 singles.

In an interview DeLio said he believed that Jackson's lawyers convinced the Pop King they could get him a movie deal if they fired me and hired Sandy Gallin, Jackson never got that movie deal. 

They're Gonna Put Me in the Movies.

Two days after Jackson fired him DiLeo received a telephone call from director Martin Scorsese offering a part in the Goodfellers movie. In the climatic scene he wacked Joe Pesci who thought he was going to be a "made man".  That role lead to his appearances  in three other movies and six television shows.

Artist Management

DiLeo continue to work as an artist manager in the 1990s.  His clients included Taylor Dayne, Laura Branigan, Jodeci, and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi. He also worked on projects for Prince.  ValCom, a television and theatrical production company, made DiLeo their chief executive officer in 2007.  Frank formed the Nashville based Dileo Entertainment Group in January 2007 and worked with singer-songwriter Galen Griffin.  He reunited with Jackson in 2009 and became his manager again a month before Jackson died in 2010. He had the sad task of informing Jackson's 3 children of their father's death.  DiLeo co-produced the Jackson documentary "This Is It."

A huge Steeler fan DiLeo came to Pittsburgh often to eat his sister's hot sausage and to visit his large Italian family and his boyhood friends Fat Pat, Skeeter, and Bobby the Rat. He lived with his wife Linda just across the Western Pennsylvania border in nearby North Lima, Ohio. His Sundays were mass and the Steeler game. Remembering his many friends and family he bought 1,500 tickets for them Michael Jackson appeared in Pittsburgh. 

In 2004 he nearly went blind due to glaucoma and diabetes.  He had several operations to restore his sight.

Frank DiLeo died in Ohio on August 24, 2011 at age 63 from triple bi-pass heart surgery.


DiLeo and Jackson
DiLeo Gets the Wiseguy Pesci