Famous People in Business We Lost This Year
21. Joël Robuchon
> Age: 73
> Occupation: Chef and restaurateur
There are celebrity chefs, and then there’s Joël Robuchon, a chef with restaurants across the globe, with reportedly the highest number of Michelin stars. Regarded as a perfectionist – attributed by some to time spent at a French seminary and a grueling kitchen apprenticeship, both before he was 20 – Robuchon famously toiled over every dish. His recipe for humble mashed potatoes, involving peeling the potatoes by hand after boiling, and then pushing them through a mill and re-heating them while adding cold butter to reach maximum creaminess, is often cited as an example of his effort to make every dish the perfect representation of that dish. Robuchon died from cancer on Aug. 6 at his home in Geneva.
22. Mitzi Shore
> Age: 87
> Occupation: Businesswoman, comedy gatekeeper
Name a famous comedian from the last 40 years – David Letterman, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and many others – and chances are they spent time working the crowd at Mitzi Shore’s The Comedy Store in West Hollywood. Known as the godmother of comedy, Shore developed a reputation as being the gatekeeper of comedy careers. Many comics broke through because Shore approved of their work and gave them prime stage time when often a late-night talent scout would be in the audience looking for fresh blood.
She wasn’t without controversy, however. Comedians picketed The Comedy Store in 1979 over Shore’s unwillingness to pay them. She relented, agreeing to pay most comics $25 per set. Shore died April 11 in hospice care in Los Angeles after battling Parkinson’s disease.
23. Russ Solomon
> Age: 92
> Occupation: Tower Records founder
After dropping out of high school, Russ Solomon took money he earned selling jukebox records to open a music store in Sacramento in 1960. Over the next 46 years, Solomon grew his business into Tower Records, the world’s largest music retailer with store locations from California to Malaysia and annual sales topping $1 billion.
Tower’s large selection of music curated by knowledgeable staff at stores open until midnight, often featuring live performances, helped it become a hangout place for young music fans to sift through a seemingly endless well of recorded music. However, the digital era caught up to Tower, which closed in 2006. Solomon died March 4 at his Sacramento home from a cardiac arrest.
24. Kate Spade
> Age: 55
> Occupation: Fashion designer, entrepreneur
Kate Spade’s suicide shocked the world in 2018. Spade, who was just 55 when she hanged herself in her Manhattan apartment on June 5, founded her fashion brand in 1993 with her husband Andy Spade.
Uninspired by the chic, logo-heavy handbags that dominated the luxury accessories market, Kate began drawing up prototypes for more utilitarian handbags with bold unpatterned color statements that became popular among younger women entering the professional workforce. In 2007, she and her husband sold her stakes in the company and left the brand. She returned to work in 2016, establishing the Francis Valentine fashion brand. Her suicide note reportedly hinted at depression brought on by a looming divorce.
25. Charles Wang
> Age: 74
> Occupation: Software entrepreneur
In the late 70s, Shanghai-born Charles Wang and a Queens College classmate founded Computer Associates International. Wang served as chairman and CEO of the company. (Today, the software development company is based in New York City and is known as CA Technologies.)
After amassing a fortune from his business, Wang took his business acumen to sporting franchises, buying the Long Island Islanders hockey team in 2000 and investing in efforts to promote the sport in China. Though he says he regretted buying the Islanders, Wang pushed for a revitalization plan for Nassau Coliseum, which led to a scaled down version of the plan scheduled to begin next year. Wang died from lung cancer on Oct. 21 at his Oyster Bay, Long Island, home.