Robert Stigwood, Powerful International Impresario and Theatre Producer of 1970s, Dies at 81

Obituaries   Robert Stigwood, Powerful International Impresario and Theatre Producer of 1970s, Dies at 81
 
Robert Stigwood, an Australia-born entertainment impresario who seemed omnipresent in the 1960s and 1970s, with stakes in some of the biggest going concerns in music, theatre and film, has died. The exact date could not be immediately learned. He was 81.
Robert Stigwood
Robert Stigwood

Mr. Stigwood had his finger in a wild number of highly visible, highly lucrative pies during his career. He managed the rock supergroup Cream in the '60s and the disco phenomenon The Bee Gees in the '70s. He produced the smash film "Saturday Night Fever." The soundtrack of that film, which sold millions, featured several of the Bee Gees’ songs and gave the former '60s trio, once known for its weepy songs of woe, a new lease on life as a dance-music powerhouse.

Beginning with the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, by the young British composing team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, he ventured into theatre, and enjoyed enormous success throughout the decade. He produced the London and Broadway stagings of Evita and co-produced the Broadway mounting of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He was also behind the stage version of Saturday Night Fever, which was a huge success in London but a failure on Broadway.

As a film producer, his credits included successes like "Grease" and "Tommy," and debacles like "Moment by Moment" and "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band." The latter, an $18 million, star-studded filmic embodiment of The Beatles iconic album, was widely considered a disaster and proved one of the few missteps Mr. Stigwood made during his heyday as a producer.

He also produced sequels to his previous triumphs, like "Staying Alive" (a sequel to "Saturday Night Fever") and "Grease 2," neither of which matched the performance of the originals.

He was born Robert Colin Stigwood on April 16, 1934 in Adelaide, South Australia, the son of Gwendolyn (Burrows) and Robert Stigwood. He emigrated to England in 1955. After floundering around a while, he went into business with Stephen Komlosy, forming Robert Stigwood Associates Ltd. One of their early successful clients was the actor turned singer John Leyton. By 1966, Stigwood was managing Cream, which is credited as the first rock supergroup, that is, a group made of members from other already-famous rock outfits.

As an entertainment mogul, Mr. Stigwood was a trail-blazer. He was among the first to breach the typical boundaries that separated managers, booking agents, record producers, concert producer, theatre producers and music publishers. He coalesced all these professions into a single entity, headed by himself. At his peak, his client list included the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and Eric Clapton.

Mr. Stigwood’s style was lavish. For the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar, he flew in two hundred guests from England and ten family members from Australia.

He was also creative in combatting business crises that affected his bottom line. Superstar was as much a musical enterprise as it was a theatre production, and the producer was faced with multiple pirated concert versions of the musical. He countered these recordings by not only dispatching an army of lawyers and numerous restraining orders, but also mounting three official touring concert versions of the show. The productions grossed millions.

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