Stephen Sondheim, the American composer and lyricist known for hit Broadway musicals such as West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Sweeney Todd, has died. He was 91.
Richard Pappas, Sondheim’s lawyer and friend, announced the death on Friday (November 26th) via the New York Times.
Sondheim died at his Roxbury, Connecticut home early Friday, with Pappas noting that the death was “sudden.” The evening prior, Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with friends.
Sondheim was born on March 22nd, 1930 in New York City, and grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and on a farm near Doylestown, Pennsylvania, following his parents’ divorce. He has said his interest in theatre began when he saw the Broadway musical Very Warm for May at age nine.
From a young age, Sondheim was mentored by lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein II. He later enrolled in the theatre program at Williams College in Massachusetts, and by the late 1950s he was penning lyrics for musicals such as West Side Story and Gypsy. The first show for which he wrote both music and lyrics was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; It won a Tony Award for best musical.
The 1970s and ‘80s brought Sondheim’s biggest string of successes, as he wrote music and lyrics for Company (the revival of which is currently active on Broadway), Follies, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George and Into the Woods.
Many of his shows have made the leap to the silver screen, from Gypsy and West Side Story (the second feature-length adaptation of which will hit theaters on December 10th), to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Into the Woods. “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”, sung by Madonna in the movie adaptation of Dick Tracy, won Sondheim his sole Academy Award.
He also received eight Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Sunday in the Park with George (shared with James Lapine) and a Lifetime Achievement award in the 1993 Kennedy Center Honors.
At the time of his death, Sondheim had been spending most of his time in Roxbury, though he also had a home in Manhattan. He is survived by his partner Jeffrey Romley and half brother Walter Sondheim.