Stephen Sondheim, one of history’s most prolific musical theater composers, died at his home in Connecticut on Friday, his lawyer told The New York Times.
The Broadway icon behind the music and lyrics for hits such as “Sweeney Todd,” “West Side Story,” “Into the Woods” and “Follies” was 91. His death was sudden, according to his lawyer and friend, F. Richard Pappas.
Sondheim recently appeared at the opening night of the Broadway revival of his 1970 show “Company” and received a standing ovation as he waved to the crowd. The show is one of several Sondheim productions that was lined up for a 2020 revival in honor of his 90th birthday last year, but all were postponed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a September appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Sondheim revealed he was working on a new musical called “Square One” and said he was excited for the upcoming film adaptation of “West Side Story” set for release next month.
Sondheim was the winner of nine Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards, one Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize, among several honors throughout his decadeslong career. In 2015, former President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Interacting with audiences through musical theater was his favorite aspect of his work, he said when reflecting on his career in a 2010 interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”
“I’m interested in the theater because I’m interested in communication with audiences,” he told host Terry Gross. “Otherwise, I would be in concert music. I would be in another kind of profession. No, I love the theater as much as I love music. And the whole idea of getting across to an audience and exciting them or making them laugh or making them cry or just making them feel is paramount to me.”
A protégé of Oscar Hammerstein II, Sondheim rose to prominence as a lyricist. In 1955, he wrote the music and lyrics for his first full-length musical, “Saturday Night,” though plans for its debut production fell through that same year.
Sondheim made it to Broadway two years later as the lyricist for “West Side Story,” which won two Tony Awards. The 1961 film adaptation starred Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and Natalie Wood and was nominated for 11 Oscars, winning 10.
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