Stephen Sondheim, an iconic fixture in the world of American musical theater with work spanning over half a century, has passed away at the age of 91. The news was confirmed by an announcement from his lawyer and friend F. Richard Pappas (via The New York Times), who indicated that the passing occurred on Friday, November 26th, and that Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with friends the day prior. Sondheim is regarded to be an influential part of 20th-century musical theater, composing the music and lyrics for productions such as Company, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, and Into the Woods, as well as the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy.
Born in New York City on March 22, 1930, Sondheim first developed a love for musical theatre at the age of nine after seeing a production of Very Warm of May. Shortly after, he became friends with James Hammerstein, the son of iconic playwright and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. Hammerstein II would go on to be a mentor to Sondheim, creating curriculum to inspire him to write and construct musicals when he was a young adult. 1957 would see the debut of Sondheim's lyrics in West Side Story, which ran for over 732 performances on Broadway, and would later be adapted into a hit film. 1962's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum would be the first show to feature both music and lyrics from Sondheim, and would go on to win the Tony Award for best musical.
Sondheim's body of work flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, with Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George, and Into the Woods. His later work would include Assassins, Passion, and most recently 2008's Road Show. While Sondheim was open about his solitary working habits and personal life, he served as a mentor of sorts for Rent creator Jonathan Larson (a relationship that was recently dramatized in the film adaptation of Larson's musical Tick, Tick... Boom!) as well as Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Sondheim came out as gay at the age of 40, and married Jeffrey Scott Romley in 2017.
Over the course of his career, Sondheim would be awarded nine Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Lifetime Achievement Tony. He also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Madonna's rendition of "Sooner or Later (I'll Always Get My Man" from 1990's Dick Tracy.
Sondheim's work has been adapted into film and television many times, with a new adaptation of West Side Story set to release next month, and a film version of Merrily We Roll Along also in the works.
Our thoughts are with Sondheim's family, friends, and fans at this time.