Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim – best known for classics like West Side Story, Sweeney Todd and Into The Woods – has died at age 91.
The New York Times reports that Sondheim passed away early Friday (November 26) in his Roxbury, Connecticut home. His cause of death is yet to be released, though according to Sondheim’s lawyer and friend F. Richard Pappas, the renowned composer and lyricist had shown no signs of illness. It’s reported that he’d attended Thanksgiving celebrations on Thursday (November 25), with his subsequent death coming as a shock.
Credited for reinvigorating musical theatre in the mid-to-late 1950s, Sondheim’s first major work was 1954’s Saturday Night. He followed it up in 1957 with the cultural landmark West Side Story, which remains one of the most significant works in Broadway’s history (and earlier this year saw Stephen Spielberg helm its second film adaptation).
Sondheim’s rise continued with back-to-back hits in Gypsy (1959) and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962), while later productions like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (1979) and Into The Woods (1987) cemented his legacy as a modern-day musical genius.
As a website dedicated to Sondheim put it best, his productions tended to “deal with unexpected themes that range far beyond the traditional subjects typically explored by American musicals”. Outside of Broadway, he penned original compositions for such film and TV projects as Stavisky (1974), Dick Tracy (1990) and The Birdcage (1996), starred in PBS’ adaptation of June Moon, and delivered a cameo in an episode of The Simpsons.
Later in life, Sondheim became a mentor for many of theatre’s current stars, working closely with the likes of Jonathan Larson and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Personally, however, he was known for his introversion and reserved personality, once telling Frank Rich that “the outsider feeling – somebody whom people want to both kiss and kill – occurred quite early in [his] life”.
Sondheim was gay, coming out publicly at age 40 in 1970. He spent eight years with dramatist Peter Jones in the ‘90s, and married actor Jeff Romley on New Year’s Eve, 2017.
Tributes for Sondheim have flooded social media overnight. Among those who shared their respects are Hugh Jackman, Uzo Aduba, George Takei, Edgar Wright and Steven Colbert, as well as industry bodies like the Tony Awards (of which Sondheim received nine), Criterion and Netflix.
Take a look at just a small handful of tributes to Sondheim below:
Stephen Sondheim was the best there ever was. I don’t know when we will ever have another of his caliber, of his breadth and scope. Just the greatest, a legend, a true titan. Rest In Peace. ❤️
— Uzo Aduba (@UzoAduba) November 26, 2021
Bereft. I do not know if we will ever see someone of his talents again. A world-changing artist. https://t.co/EEVk3I65HX
— Rakesh Satyal (@rakeshsatyal) November 26, 2021
Pacific Overtures with the great master himself. What an honor it was to perform your work. RIP Stephen Sondheim. pic.twitter.com/5MI2Y1JBLM
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) November 27, 2021
He left us with so many words, but none enough for this post. Goodbye, old pal. Thank you, Stephen Sondheim, for so much brilliance in the theatre and sharing your music with us all. pic.twitter.com/Qe55GcDQeS
— The Tony Awards (@TheTonyAwards) November 27, 2021
“I’ll always be there / As frightened as you / To help us survive / Being alive.” Goodnight to the renowned and truly matchless composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who forever changed the landscape of American theater. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Njv0ZekdEU
— Criterion Collection (@Criterion) November 26, 2021
thank you so much
for something between
ridiculous and sublime#StephenSondheim
— Darren Criss (@DarrenCriss) November 26, 2021
He only wrote one screenplay, but it’s an absolute gem of a whodunnit. Why not pay tribute to the great Stephen Sondheim by watching his parlor game cult classic ‘The Last Of Sheila’. (Co-written with Anthony Perkins, no less). RIP x pic.twitter.com/Cqd2FpUgtw
— edgarwright (@edgarwright) November 26, 2021
The greatest of them all.
Rest in peace to Stephen Sondheim, a legend in every sense of the word. pic.twitter.com/S9P96cdWVW
— NetflixFilm (@NetflixFilm) November 26, 2021
Every so often someone comes along that fundamentally shifts an entire art form. Stephen Sondheim was one of those. As millions mourn his passing I also want to express my gratitude for all he has given to me and so many more. Sending my love to his nearest and dearest. pic.twitter.com/4KlnJJJipq
— Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) November 26, 2021
Just a few months ago the legend Stephen Sondheim joined us in person for an unforgettable conversation. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/qyhdjz9TX6
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) November 26, 2021