Legendary US composer and songwriter Stephen Sondheim has died aged 91.
His lawyer told the New York Times that Sondheim passed away on Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.
He was a titan of musical theatre who turned the unlikeliest of subjects into entertainment landmarks.
During his illustrious career, he wrote the scores of some of Broadway’s best known shows including Company, Follies and A Little Night Music. Sondheim also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story.
The New-York born composer won eight Grammy awards, nine Tony awards – including the special Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre – and one Academy Award. He also received a Pulitzer Prize.
His ballad Send in the Clowns – from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music – has been recorded hundreds of times, including by Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins.
In 2015, US President Barack Obama bestowed Sondheim the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian award – for his work.
Sondheim’s lawyer said the composer had celebrated Thanksgiving with friends a day before his death.
Tributes have started pouring to one of musical theatre’s most revered composers.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: “Stephen Sondheim created fantastic worlds and characters, but at the heart of every story he told was a kid from New York City. And that kid was a legend. One of the brightest lights of Broadway is dark tonight. May he rest in peace.”
US actress and singer Anna Kendrick said that performing Sondheim’s work “has been among the greatest privileges of my career”, adding that the composer’s death was “a devastating loss”.
Journalist Fae O’Toole, posted on Twitter a letter she received from Sondheim in 2011, when she was “theatre-mad 16-year-old”.
She said it “made me cry for weeks and propelled me towards a career of art and writing. Thank you for everything. Rest easy.”
Born on 22 March 1930, Sondheim saw his first Broadway musical at the age of nine.
The following year he met Oscar Hammerstein II, of The King and I and Oklahoma! fame, who became his mentor as he made his first forays into musical theatre.
After some adolescent experiments with the form, he was commissioned to turn Front Porch in Flatbush, a play by twin brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, into a musical.
The resulting piece, called Saturday Night, did not open on Broadway in 1954 as planned, following the death of its producer, Lemuel Ayers. Indeed, it would be 43 years before it received its professional premiere in London.
Sondheim’s big break instead came through an invitation to pen lyrics for West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein’s contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957 and ran for more than 700 performances. A 1961 film version won 10 Oscars.
In 2010, the year Sondheim turned 80, a Broadway theatre was renamed in his honour.
Ten years later, he received the same accolade in London when the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue was rechristened the Sondheim.
Sondheim is survived by his husband, Jeffrey Scott Romley, who is almost 50 years his junior, whom he married in 2017.
“You have to work on something that makes you uncertain – something that makes you doubt yourself,” Sondheim said in 2017.
“If you know where you’re going, you’ve gone, as the poet says. And that’s death.”