James Rado, co-creator of the influential hippie-era rock musical Hair, has died at age 90.
Publicist Merle Frimark, Rado’s longtime friend, confirmed the news to The New York Times, saying the Broadway legend died on Tuesday in Manhattan from cardio-respiratory arrest.
Rado was born in Venice, Calif., but raised in Rochester, N.Y., and Washington, D.C. Following a two-year Navy stint, he moved to New York, studying acting and writing music. The ’60s were his breakout decade: In 1963, he landed a part in the Broadway play Marathon ’33 and took a role in The Lion in Winter three years later, playing Richard opposite Christopher Walken.
But he made his most lucrative connection while performing in the October 1964 off-Broadway musical Hang Down Your Head and Die, meeting Gerome Ragni. After moving into an apartment in New Jersey, the duo began collaborating on what became Hair: An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. crafting a book and lyrics that explored the decade’s blooming counterculture and sexual liberation amid the Vietnam War. (Composer Galt MacDermot wrote the music.)
Hair made its off-Broadway debut in October 1967 and premiered on Broadway six months later. The musical was greeted with widespread controversy, including church pickets and outrage over the show’s use of profanity, sexual references and, most notably, a nude scene during the song “Where Do I Go?”
But the musical also became a cultural phenomenon — even spawning a successful cast recording and a handful of hit singles, including the 5th Dimension’s chart-topping “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” Three Dog Night’s “Easy to Be Hard” and Oliver’s “Good Morning, Starshine.”
Rado continued to work in the musical medium following Hair’s initial run, including less famous titles like The Rainbow Rainbeam Radio Roadshow and Sun (Audio Movie), the latter a reunion with Ragni. But his most popular project still endures. “Hair had a spiritual message,” Rado told the Associated Press in 1993. “And it has a mystical message I hope is coming through — there’s more to life than the way it’s been devised for us, explained to us, taught to us.”
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