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Virgin vice chairman Nancy Berry leaves firm

Virgin Records vice chairman Nancy Berry, the estranged wife of ousted music executive Ken Berry, Tuesday became the latest casualty of a restructuring at ailing British music company EMI Group Plc, where the couple reigned over rock ‘n’ roll for several years.

Alain Levy, who abruptly replaced Ken Berry as chief executive officer of EMI’s recorded music division last week, announced Tuesday that Nancy Berry will leave Virgin immediately after more than two decades at the EMI unit.

The news, which was not a surprise to many industry insiders, broke as Virgin prepares to release key albums in coming weeks by some of its biggest stars, including Lenny Kravitz and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.

Virgin’s U.S. operations, which lost $38 million last year, according to Billboard magazine, have not broken a new artist worldwide in several years.

The label has also suffered some major setbacks: the high-profile Virgin debut by Mariah Carey flopped; budding R&B superstar Aaliyah died in a plane crash in August, and the Spice Girls are reportedly near break-up.

While Ken Berry’s dismissal was officially tied to EMI’s downbeat results, speculation has persisted that his wife’s alleged romances with rock stars also may have contributed to the demise of her husband’s career.

Sources said Nancy Berry left the company by mutual agreement, much like her husband.

“It has been a great pleasure working at Virgin Records over so many years with such a range of great artists and people. I wish all my colleagues success in the future,” she said.

“We are grateful for Nancy’s hard work and dedication over the years. She is a talented record executive who has made great contributions to the development of Virgin Records,” Levy, a former president of PolyGram, said in a statement announcing his first big personnel move since taking over.

While last week’s management shuffle caught many by surprise, the record industry took the latest news in stride since many had simply expected the “other shoe” to drop.

“It was very much expected once Ken was told to leave. EMI is just cleaning house over there,” one entertainment executive said.

Nancy Berry has emerged as a powerful industry force who has helped engineer deals with Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones and George Michael, but was more recently criticized for paying Mariah Carey a monumental $80 million to sign with Virgin.

Berry started out at Virgin in 1979 as a 19-year-old secretary to her future husband in New York City. The two married in 1985 and remain close friends despite separating in the mid-’90s, according to reports.

By 1997, Nancy was Virgin’s executive vice president, and was famed for throwing epic industry parties.

The Berrys’ departure marks the latest chapter in the rocky history of EMI, which has struggled with poor earnings after several failed attempts at marriages with other music giants.

EMI, whose stable of stars includes British artists Robbie Williams and Radiohead, last month warned sales at EMI Recorded Music would fall from last year, and that it expected the division to record a small loss in the first half.

One of Virgin’s biggest successes this year has been Gorillaz, a cartoon rock group fronted by U.K. rocker Damon Albarn. Its other acts include David Bowie and Janet Jackson.

EMI’s recorded music division accounted for around 80 percent of last year’s annual turnover of 2.7 billion pounds ($3.9 billion).

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