Entertainment mogul Aaron Russo launched his career atypically for one who ultimately produced features -- like Lou Adler, Russo kick-started his ascent to "above the title" marquee status not in film but in music management and publicity. He began by aggressively promoting rock & roll gigs, and then, as an agent, represented a pre-stardom Bette Midler in her glory days -- the period when the diva/comedienne mounted her Tony Award-winning musical show Clams on the Half Shell Review. In time, that show's success (and, doubtless, Midler's extraordinary talent) prompted the two to re-team for what became the first foray of either into filmmaking: the harrowing Mark Rydell-directed tragedy The Rose, about the spectacular fall of a rock diva (Midler) based very loosely on Janis Joplin. That picture scored on all fronts; unfortunately, Russo's subsequent outings waxed uneven -- he was responsible for such stinkers as the 1982 gay cop comedy Partners (a universally reviled parody of Friedkin's Cruising), and the misanthropic Arthur Hiller-directed satire Teachers (1984), yet also produced the fine Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd farce Trading Places (1983), one of the biggest blockbusters of its year and a critical and public favorite.
Russo mounted his last film project approximately two years before he died, in a quadruple threat as writer, director, editor, and producer: the muckraking documentary America: Freedom to Fascism. Ostensibly an expose of IRS practices, it premiered to mostly negative reviews in July 2006. That film demonstrated Russo's longstanding interest in politics; he ran on the Republican platform for Nevada governor in 1988, and made an unsuccessful attempt to land the Libertarian nomination for presidential candidate in 2004. Russo died of cancer in August 2007.