Just days after their son, Jonathan Larson, won two Tony Awards as author and composer of Rent, Larson's parents announced they are suing two New York City hospitals for $250 million, claiming their malpractice resulted in his death.
"It's my hope that we can make the medical community aware of the need for better care and better attention for people who come into their emergency rooms," Larson's father, Allan, told Playbill On-Line. "Hopefully we'll end up with a number of people who will live longer than they might have because [of the suit]. That, to me, would be the greatest legacy of John. Even greater than his music. Human lives are very precious."
Larson, who also won the Pulitzer Prize and other major theatre awards as composer/lyricist/librettist of the musical, died Jan. 25 when a bubble burst on his aorta, the main vessel carrying blood from the heart. It was the night before the show opened at off-Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop. The sold-out run led to a Broadway transfer April 29. Rent won the 1996 Tony Award as Best Musical June 2. Larson was 35.
Larson's father said his son, at the time of his death, was seeking a commission from the Adirondack Theatre festival to write an original musical, and was writing the score for what he hoped would be an animated film feature. He had no further details.
"Frankly, all of that would have been just the beginning," Larson's father said. "He had a whole lifetime ahead of him. He was very prolific." David L. Taback, the lawyer for Larson's parents, told Gannett newspapers that they are suing Cabrini Medical Center and St. Vincent's Hospital for failing to diagnose and treat the condition. Larson sought treatment at both hospitals in the days before this death, complaining of chest and stomach pains.
Doctors at Cabrini reportedly took an x-ray and sent Larson home, diagnosing food poisoning. Two days later he went to St. Vincent's with the same complaints. Doctors there took another x-ray and again sent him home, this time diagnosing a virus. Larson died two days later of an aortic aneurysm.
A doctor hired by Larson's parents reviewed the first x-ray and said the bubble on the aorta was clearly visible.
"He shouldn't have died," Taback said. "If he was properly diagnosed, he would be alive today."
The Larsons notified the hospitals of the suit March 11, but kept quiet about it until after the Tony Awards.
The elder Larson said the suit doesn't specify an amount being sought. Taback cited the $250 million figure in newspaper interviews.
Allan Larson said, "There's a good body of [Jonathan's] work that I know is going to be reexamined now," including his musical Superbia and other early projects.
"In terms of the suit, I'd like to think that his death won't totally have been in vain, -- which occurs to me, is a line from Angel" in Rent