NEW YORK: Legendary Broadway songwriter Stephen Sondheim, widely credited with revolutionizing American musical theater, died Friday at the age of 91.
Sondheim -- a lyriccist and composer known for works including "West Side Story" and "Sweeney Todd" -- died suddenly in his Connecticut home the day after celebrating Thanksgiving with friends, his attorney F. Richard Pappas said.
The publicist for the ongoing Broadway production of Sondheim's musical "Company," Rick Miramontez, confirmed to AFP that the musical theater titan had passed away.
"There are no words. He had them all. And the music. He was incomparable," the UK-based Stephen Sondheim Society, which is dedicated to promoting and studying his work, tweeted along with three heart emojis, one of them broken.
Born on March 22, 1930 in New York City, Sondheim was involved in musical theater from an early age, even though both of his parents worked in the fashion industry.
He started playing piano at age seven and was family friends with Oscar Hammerstein II, half of the famed musical theater writing duo Rodgers and Hammerstein who wrote shows including "Oklahoma!" and "The Sound of Music."
Sondheim's first professional writing job was for the television comedy "Topper" in the 1950s. He also wrote crossword puzzles for New York Magazine from 1968 to 1969, which contributed to his writing style and sense of theatrical misdirection in his plays.
His major breakthrough on Broadway came with "West Side Story" in 1957, quickly followed by "Gypsy" two years later.
"West Side Story" was adapted into a film twice, first in 1961, starring Rita Moreno. The second, due to be released in early December, stars Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler.
Throughout his more than five decades-long career, Sondheim won eight Grammy awards, eight Tony awards -- including the special Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre -- one Academy Award and a Pulitzer. He was nominated for many more Grammys and Tonys, as well as two Golden Globes.
Two of Sondheim's shows, "Company" and "Assassins," were revived on Broadway this fall.
"We have lost the Shakespeare of musical theatre," said Marianne Elliott, the director of "Company," in a statement shared on the show's Twitter page.
"He was the most generous collaborator with the greatest spirit," she said. "We dedicate this production of Company to his artistry and joy."
In 2015, then-US president Barack Obama presented Sondheim with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, for his life's work.
Sondheim's repertoire includes much-loved shows such as "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Into the Woods" and "Sweeney Todd."
In 2017, Sondheim married his partner Jeffrey Romley, who survives him.
"Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had the time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics!" tweeted singer Barbra Streisand.
"Thank you for everything Mr Sondheim," tweeted Broadway actor Aaron Tveit, who recently won the Tony for best actor. "We are so lucky to have what you've given the world."
Broadway actress and singer Lea Salonga also thanked Sondheim for his "vast contributions to musical theater."
"We shall be singing your songs forever. Oh, my heart hurts," she wrote on Twitter.