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Obituaries

J-pop giant Johnny Kitagawa dies at 87

Boy band hit-maker behind SMAP and Arashi helped shape Japanese music scene

Members of SMAP, one of Johnny Kitagawa's biggest J-pop groups, perform during their concert in Beijing in 2011.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Johnny Kitagawa, the music mogul who created Japanese supergroups SMAP and Arashi, died here Tuesday of complications from a stroke at age 87.

Born as Hiromu Kitagawa in Los Angeles, he served in the American military during the Korean War. Kitagawa later worked at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, where he was inspired to promote boy bands after seeing the movie "West Side Story."

In 1962, Kitagawa formed the talent agency Johnny & Associates and launched the four-member Johnnys idol group. His agency gave birth to such successful all-male acts as Four Leaves, Shonentai, Hikaru Genji, Kinki Kids and Tokio.

Kitagawa and sister Mary built up the agency into the face of Japan's entertainment industry, with the group members collectively known as Johnnies. His Guinness world records included the most No. 1 singles produced by an individual.

SMAP, one of Johnny & Associates' highest-profile groups, made its recording debut in 1991 and rose to national popularity with hit singles like "Sekai Ni Hitotsu Dake No Hana" (Only One), "Yozora no Mukou" (Beyond the Night Sky) and "Lion Heart" known by Japanese of all ages. Members also hosted popular variety shows while starring in television drama series and movies -- a trait common among the agency's idols as multitalented entertainers. SMAP enjoyed a two-decade-plus run that ended with a breakup announced in 2016.

Johnnies are best known in East Asia and Southeast Asia. Although Johnnies have a lower profile in the West, Arashi held a two-day concert in Hawaii for its 15th anniversary and drew about 30,000 people.

On June 18, Kitagawa was rushed to the hospital after suffering a stroke caused by a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. He was pronounced dead at 4:47 p.m. on Tuesday.

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