Stephen Sondheim, American musical legend and “West Side Story” lyricist, died on Friday at the age of 91.
His lawyer, F. Richard Pappas, told the New York Times that he passed away suddenly at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut (northeast of the country), after celebrating Thanksgiving with his friends the day before.
Rick Miramontez, spokesperson for one of his plays, “Company”, currently performing on Broadway, confirmed his death to AFP.
Trained at a young age by the great master of the musical Oscar Hammerstein (“Show Boat”, “The Melody of Happiness”), Stephen Sondheim was hired at only 25 years old to write the lyrics of the now legendary “West Side Story”, his first show on Broadway, later adapted for the screen.
Passionate about theater from a young age
Born March 22, 1930 in New York City, he was considered one of the greatest composers of the musical and was seen as an intellectual of the genre, as he preferred art theater to the entertainment so prevalent on Broadway.
He had notably worked on “Sweeney Todd”, “Gypsy”, “Sunday in the Park with George”, “A Little Night Music”, as a composer or lyricist.
During his long career, this Broadway giant has won eight Grammy Awards, as many Tony Awards, an Oscar, as well as a Pulitzer Prize.
Stephen Sondheim, whose parents worked in fashion, had a passion for musical theater from an early age.
After working on television or writing crosswords for New York Magazine, it is thanks to “West Side Story” that he rose to fame.
In 2015, Barack Obama, then President of the United States, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor.
“To put it simply, Stephen has reinvented the American musical,” Barack Obama said. “His music is so beautiful, his lyrics so precise, that even when he exposes the imperfections of everyday life, he transcends them”.
“Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 and had time to write such wonderful music and great lyrics! May he rest in peace, ”greeted singer Barbra Streisand, tweeting a photo.
Actress and singer Anna Kendrick lamented a “terrible loss”. “A few days ago I was telling someone how fun (and really difficult) it is to sing Stephen Sondheim. Interpreting his works has been one of the greatest privileges of my career, ”she reacted on Twitter.
Actor Hugh Jackman for his part expressed his gratitude to the lyricist. “Every once in a while a person comes in to fundamentally change an entire artistic genre. Stephen Sondheim was one of them. As millions of people mourn his passing, I also want to express my gratitude for all that he has given to me and to so many others, ”he wrote.