Aaron Russo Dies

 Aaron Russo, who managed Bette Midler and went on to produce such films as "Trading Places," has died. He was 64.

The New York City native died from cancer before dawn on Friday, surrounded by family at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said Heidi Gregg, his girlfriend of more than two decades. Russo had been battling the disease for nearly six years, she said.

"He was my best friend for 27 years," said Gregg. "Aaron was a freedom fighter, a film maker and a lover of life."

Russo was born in Brooklyn in 1943 and raised in Long Island. He began promoting rock and roll shows at a local theater while still in high school, according to a biography he wrote and posted on his Web site. When he later opened his own nightclub in Chicago, Russo promoted some of the most successful rock acts of the 1960s including Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead, he wrote.

In the 1970s, Russo managed Bette Midler, producing the Tony award winning "Clams on the Half-Shell Revue" starring the singer. During that time he also managed The Manhattan Transfer.

Russo eventually turned to producing feature films including "The Rose" which starred Midler in 1979 as a self destructive rock star, and later "Trading Places" in 1983 which starred Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd.

Russo was also a longtime political activist, making an unsuccessful run for Nevada governor as a Republican in 1998. In January 2004, Russo declared his candidacy for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination but lost.

In 2006, Russo finished work on a documentary titled "America: Freedom to Fascism," which was billed as an expose of the Internal Revenue Service.

"He was an absolutely amazing man," said Ilona Urban, his press secretary. "He was pointed and once he knew there was a direction to go, you couldn’t get him to turn left or right. He was very committed. "

In addition to Gregg, Russo is survived by their children Sam Russo, 22, and Max Russo, 25.