Associated Press, with Sun-Times staff contributing
LOS ANGELES — Composer Michael Masser, who wrote and produced of some of Whitney Houston’s biggest hits, has died. He was 74.
His business manager, Kurt Vitolo, confirmed Tuesday that Mr. Masser died last week at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, following a long illness.
A 1958 graduate of Chicago’s Sullivan High School, Mr. Masser was voted “most talented” by his classmates, according to a Sun-Times profile in 1988.
He attended the University of Illinois law school and worked as a lawyer and stockbroker in New York before pursuing his dream of a music career.
“I come from a background that stresses education more than anything,” said Mr. Masser in 1988. “You get your hands cut off if you don’t get a law degree or become a doctor. I was used to being successful in school, but academics didn’t make me happy.”
His friends and family didn’t understand why Mr. Masser, at 30, would spurn a successful career to chase an “iffy dream in music.”
“I was working as a stockbroker in New York and had the seemingly perfect life,” he said. “But I was unhappy, and someone I knew convinced me to see a shrink. I walked in and told the doctor I wanted to write music. He said, ‘What’s the problem with that?’ I told him that didn’t go over well in my family. He listened, took my money and said: ‘Here’s a note of permission to write music. That’s all you need to clear your conscience.’
“And it’s funny, because that’s all I was looking for: permission. I had been the dutiful son and husband for so long, I had forgotten about living for myself.”
Mr. Masser headed west. In Los Angeles, he met songwriter Johnny Mercer, who let him sleep on his sofa and introduced him to people in the music business.
Without any formal music training, he made his studio debut with a bang, co-writing and producing “Touch Me in the Morning,” a No. 1 single for Diana Ross in 1973.
He earned an Oscar nomination for his next hit with Ross, “Theme from ‘Mahogany’ (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?).”
With Linda Creed, he also wrote “The Greatest Love of All,” a searing ballad recorded by George Benson in 1977 as the theme song for “The Greatest,” a movie about Muhammad Ali.
Whitney Houston recorded the song for her 1985 debut album.
Mr. Masser said in 1988, “Linda had cancer and had a breast removed a week before she wrote the lyrics to that one. . . . I had just come back from Jerusalem, where I had visited all these historic and wonderful places, and the song just came right from my heart. I think people relate to its message that you can do whatever you set your mind to doing.”
Mr. Masser also wrote and produced “Saving All My Love” and “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” for Houston.
“I write show-stoppers, not disposable pop songs,” Mr. Masser said. “It sounds arrogant, but it’s true. There’s nothing wrong with a good pop song, but there’s so much out today that won’t be remembered in a year. I think mine will. A good song lasts.”
His other hits included 1983’s “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love,” performed by Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson, and Natalie Cole’s 1989 track “Miss You Like Crazy.” He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007.
He is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son, two grandsons and a sister.