Stephen Sondheim, one of Broadway’s most revered and influential composer-lyricists, has died. According to The New York Times, Sondheim passed away early Friday (November 26) in his Roxbury, Connecticut home. A cause of death has yet to be revealed, but Richard Pappas, Sondheim’s lawyer and friend, noted that the death was “sudden.” Sondheim was 91 years old.
Born in New York in March 1930, Sondheim was about ten years old when he developed a close friendship with James Hammerstein, son of lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein II. The elder Hammerstein became Sondheim’s mentor as he made his first forays into musical theatre, although he had already written his first musical, By George, a satirical show about life at his school. After enrolling in the theatre program at Williams College in Massachusetts, Sondheim began his career as the lyricist of the hit musicals West Side Story and Gypsy. The first show for which he wrote both music and lyrics was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which won a Tony Award for best musical.
Over the following decade, he worked with Hal Prince on a series of successful shows, including Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Pacific Overtures (1976), Sweeney Todd (1979), and Merrily We Roll Along (1981). In the ’80s and ’90s, Sondheim collaborated with James Lapine for 1984’s Sunday in the Park with George (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama in 1985), and 1987’s Into the Woods.
Over the course of his career, Sondheim received nine Tony Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Tony), eight Grammy Awards, and a Lifetime Achievement award in the 1993 Kennedy Center Honors. More recently, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015.
Sondheim is survived by his husband Jeff Romley and half brother Walter Sondheim.
Following the news of his death, friends and fans across the entertainment world mourned his loss on social media. Read some of their remembrances further down below.
Future historians: Stephen Sondheim was real. Yes, he wrote Tony & Maria AND Sweeney Todd AND Bobby AND George & Dot AND Fosca AND countless more. Some may theorize Shakespeare's works were by committee but Steve was real & he was here & he laughed SO loud at shows & we loved him
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) November 27, 2021
Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had the time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics! May he Rest In Peace🥲🎵 🎶🎵 pic.twitter.com/vshNSdkvpQ
— Barbra Streisand (@BarbraStreisand) November 26, 2021
I am so so sad to lose my friend Steve Sondheim He gave me so much to sing about ♥️♥️I loved him dearly and will miss him so much Thank you for all the gifts you gave the world Steve♥️
— Bernadette Peters (@OfficialBPeters) 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
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
I was just talking to someone a few nights ago about how much fun (and fucking difficult) it is to sing Stephen Sondheim. Performing his work has been among the greatest privileges of my career. A devastating loss.
— Anna Kendrick (@AnnaKendrick47) 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
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
He wrote me a wonderful permission letter to use “Old Friends” in American Gods. I avoided meeting him (failed only once) and refused dinner because I didn’t have many heroes. Now I’ve got one less. Thank you Stephen Sondheim so much. pic.twitter.com/soRo4G2ZFU
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) November 26, 2021
I met him once for 30 seconds backstage after a production of Merrily We Roll Along. I have never been more tongue tied or star struck. His writing is the singular reason I wanted to be a musical theater actor. No one will ever come close to his genius. RIP Stephen Sondheim.
— Jesse Tyler Ferguson (he/him/his) (@jessetyler) November 26, 2021
I am at a loss. Feels like the end of an era. He did indeed set the standard for the American musical.
Rest well, sir. #StephenSondheim
— Ariana DeBose (@ArianaDeBose) November 26, 2021
“As a writer, I think what I am is an actor. I write conversational songs, so the actors find that the rise and fall of the tune, the harmonies, the rhythms, help them as singers to ACT the song. They don’t have to act against it.” -Stephen Sondheim pic.twitter.com/zQlN7gKfSh
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) November 27, 2021