Walter Yetnikoff, who led CBS Records during the boom years of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album and lived the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll life more indulgently than many of his stars did, died on Monday at a hospital in Bridgeport, Conn. He was 87.

His wife, Lynda Yetnikoff, said the cause was cancer.

Mr. Yetnikoff was one of the most powerful, insatiable and abrasive figures in music in the years just before the digital revolution upended the business.

He was among a small group of powerful executives who shaped the record business in the rock era, including Clive Davis (who led Columbia Records and founded Arista Records), David Geffen of Asylum and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic. He strode through those heady days of hit records brashly, licentiously and, by his own admission, often drunk or drug-addled.