Stephen Sondheim, the emperor of the Broadway stage, has passed away at the age of 91.
Sondheim had a hand in some of Broadway’s biggest and most legendary properties, including West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Pacific Overtures and Sunday in the Park with George, which won a Pulitzer for drama in 1985.
The composer’s death was described as sudden by his lawyer, who said the celebrated playwright had just celebrated Thanksgiving with friends.
He was born in New York in 1930 and wrote his first musical at age 15. He was mentored by another great – Oscar Hammerstein, who told him “the whole point is to underwrite not overwrite because music is so rich an art itself.”
He was a huge artist in his field, and has been since he had his first taste of success in the 1950s when he wrote the lyrics for West Side Story. There aren’t many composers who also wrote lyrics to their music. He has won a litany of awards, including a Tony for lifetime achievement in 2008, a Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in 1993 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015.
Here’s a picture of the musical theatre star smiling while receiving that award.
Tributes for the late legend came pouring in after news of his passing.
Sondheim was unabashedly original and often told other artists that if they kept true to themselves they would always create original work. He took elegant melodies and ideas and added often unconventional but deceptively simple lyrics that were often unforgettable.
His work appears regularly in pop culture. Recently, Adam Driver sang a version of Sondheim’s Being Alive in the Oscar-nominated film Marriage Story.
He will be missed.