Born in New York City on September 23, 1931, Hilly Kristal was a violinist and vocalist who went on to found CBGB, a small venue in lower Manhattan that launched famous rock/punk acts like Television, Talking Heads, Blondie and Patti Smith. Kristal earned millions from T-shirt and merchandise revenue, though the club was closed in 2006 over back rent. He died on August 28, 2007.
Hillel Kristal was born on September 23, 1931, in New York City, with his family soon moving to Hightstown, New Jersey, where he grew up. Kristal developed a passion for music, studying the violin and going on to become a vocalist at Radio City Music Hall after a stint in the military, where he entertained via radio. He also dropped a single—"Man in Space"—in the early 1960s.
Kristal went into behind the scenes musical work as well, serving as manager of iconic jazz venue the Village Vanguard by 1959 and later producing college campus performances. By the mid-'60s, Kristal had launched the cabaret club and restaurant Hilly's in the West Village, housing performers like Bette Midler during her early years on Broadway. At the end of the decade he opened another club, Hilly's on the Bowery.
In late 1973, Kristal changed the Bowery Hilly's moniker to CBGB & OMFUG, which stood for "Country Bluegrass Blues" and "Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers." Despite the genre tilt of its title, the small venue went in a radical direction and become a crucial, career-making site for iconic rock, punk and poetry acts from the '70s and '80s, including Talking Heads, Television, Blondie, The Ramones and Patti Smith, who had a 1975 residency there for several weeks.
Kristal's former wife Karen worked at the club and was legal owner of the venue's parent company due to Kristal going bankrupt on a past business.
World Famous Logo
CBGB became famous not only for its performances, with Hilly Kristal maintaining that all acts had to do original material, but also for its décor, known for its heavily stickered, graffiti walls and cringe-worthy lavatories. Kristal, who didn't always care for the music from some of the acts he booked, nevertheless was renowned for giving artists a platform outside mainstream musical conventions.
Kristal eventually earned major revenues by copyrighting the CBGB logo and selling affiliated T-shirts and merchandise on a global scale. The club's physical site came to be owned by the Bowery Residents' Committee and, after significant conflict over issues of back rent, CBGB was closed in 2006, with Smith playing the last concert.
Death and Controversy
Hilly Kristal died on August 28, 2007, in New York City, after battling lung cancer. Many artists whose career he supported spoke about his legacy and CBGB's major influence in music. Controversy also ensued after his death as ex-wife Karen and son Dana charged that a lion's share of Kristal's estate, worth millions due to merchandise sales, was unfairly signed over to daughter Lisa Kristal Burgman.
Alan Rickman Biopic
In the fall of 2013, the film CBGB was released; the project was directed by Randall Miller, with Harry Potter star Alan Rickman playing the lead role of Kristal. The film also co-stars another Potter alum, Rupert Grint, along with Ashley Greene, Joel David Moore and Taylor Hawkins, among others.
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