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Russ Thyret, a longtime executive at Warner Bros. Records who played a pivotal role in signing Prince to the label in the 1970s, died Friday (Feb. 12) after a long illness. He was 76.

During his 30-year stint with Warner Bros. Records, the only label he ever worked for, Thyret rose through the ranks of sales, marketing and promotions posts, eventually becoming the Burbank, Calif.-based company’s chairman/CEO from 1995 through 2001.

“Russ Thyret was a pivotal figure in the history of the Warner Music family,” a Warner Music Group spokesperson wrote in a statement. “He will be deeply missed by his extended Warner family, his many friends in and out of the business, and all those artists whose lives he touched so deeply.”

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Thyret passed away at his home surrounded by family in the Valley Village neighborhood of Los Angeles. Further details about his illness were not available.

Thyret started his career in the music industry by managing an independent retail store on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip. He joined WEA Corporation in 1971 as a field sales representative in the company’s L.A. office, and by the mid ’70s was serving as the label’s VP and director of national promotion.

During his successful run at Warner Bros. Records, Thyret helped boost the careers of artists such as Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, R.E.M., Depeche Mode and Madonna, among others. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment at the label was helping sign Prince in 1977. The major signing came after Thyret was given a demo by the 18-year-old Minnesota artist’s then-manager Owen Husney.

“Artists loved Russ, because he understood what made them tick, and the industry loved Russ, because his passion for the music drove everything he did,” the Warner Music spokesperson wrote.

Thyret was appointed chairman/CEO of Warner Bros. Records in 1995. His predecessor Mo Ostin called him “a total record man,” according to Warner Music’s statement. Thyret left the label in 2001 following the merger between Time Warner and AOL.

“When Russ left the company nearly two decades ago, he said, ‘My strongest ambition has always been to serve our artists well, and I leave hoping I’ve accomplished that … It will forever be a magical memory,” the Warner Music spokesperson added.

Thyret is survived by his wife, Rebecca, and son, Russ Thyret Jr.

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