NEW YORK - Chris Lighty, a hip-hop mogul who helped the likes of Sean "Diddy" Combs, 50 Cent and Mariah Carey attain not only hit records, but also lucrative careers outside music, was found dead in his New York City apartment Thursday in an apparent suicide. He was 44.
He was found at his home in the Bronx with a gunshot to the head and was pronounced dead there, police said. No note was recovered, but a 9 mm handgun was found and there was no sign of forced entry, said Paul Browne, New York police spokesman. The shooting appears to be self-inflicted, authorities said.
Lighty had been a part of the scene for decades, working with pioneers like LL Cool J before starting his own management company, Violator. But he was in the midst of a divorce and had been having recent financial and personal troubles.
Twitter was abuzz with condolences just hours after the body was found around 11:30 a.m. "R.I.P. Chris Lighty," Fat Joe posted on his account. "The man that saved my life!" Diddy wrote: "In shock." Rihanna posted: "Rest peacefully Chris Lighty, my prayers go out to family and loved ones! Dear God please have mercy." And Mary J. Blige wrote: "U never know what can send a person over the edge or make them want 2 keep living. take it easy on people."
50 Cent said in a statement issued through his publicist that he was deeply saddened by the loss. "Chris has been an important part of my business and personal growth for a decade," he said. "He was a good friend and advisor who helped me develop as an artist and businessman. My prayers are with his family. He will be greatly missed."
Lighty was raised by his mother in the Bronx as one of six children. He ran with a group called The Violators, the inspiration for the name of his management company, according to the company website. He was a player in the hip-hop game since he was a kid DJ. He rose through the ranks at Rush Management - mogul Russell Simmons' first company - before eventually founding Violator Management in the late 1990s.
"Today, we lost a hip-hop hero and one of its greatest architects," Simmons tweeted.
Lighty's roster ranged from Academy Award-winners Three 6 Mafia to maverick Missy Elliott to up-and-comer Papoose and perpetual star Carey. He made it his mission not so much to make musical superstars, but rather multifaceted entertainers who could be marketed in an array of ways: a sneaker deal here, a soft drink partnership there, a movie role down the road.
In a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Lighty talked about creating opportunities for his stars - a Chapstick deal for LL Cool J, known for licking his lips, and a vitamin supplement deal for 50 Cent.
"As music sales go down because kids are stealing it off the Internet and trading it and iPod sales continue to rise, you can't rely on just the income that you would make off of being an artist," he said at the time.
Survivors include his two children. He and his wife, Veronica, had been in the process of divorcing. The case was still listed as active, but electronic records show an agreement to end it was filed in June.
He was also having financial trouble. City National Bank sued Lighty, whose given name is Darrell, in April, saying he had overdrawn his account by $53,584 and then refused to pay the balance. The case was still pending.
He also owed more than $330,000 in state and federal taxes, according to legal filings. His tax problems were much steeper a year ago, but he cleared away millions of dollars in earlier IRS liens last October, after selling his Manhattan apartment for $5.6 million.
Larry Mestel, the CEO of Primary Wave Music, the entertainment company that created the joint venture Primary Violator management last fall with Violator Management, said: "We are extremely shocked and sadden by this tragic news. Chris was a friend, business partner and most of all, an icon, role model and true legend of the music and entertainment industry. He will be missed by many and we send love and support to his family."