John Raitt and Jan Claytonin Carousel
John Raitt and Jan Clayton
in Carousel
The legendary musical theater baritone John Raitt, who created the role of Billy Bigelow in the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, died today at his home in Pacific Palisades, California from complications of pneumonia. He was 88.

Raitt, the father of blues/rock singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt, is also well known for his performance as Sid Sorokin opposite Janis Paige in the The Pajama Game (1954), a role he recreated in the 1957 film version that starred Doris Day. His other Broadway shows were Magdalena (1948), Three Wishes for Jamie (1952), Carnival in Flanders (1953), A Joyful Noise (1966), and A Musical Jubilee (1975). Though his TV and film work was limited, Rait played Frank Butler in a 1957 television production of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun, opposite Mary Martin. He also appeared in a number of episodes of The Bell Telephone Hour and, more recnetly, he made guest appearances on Dead Man's Gun, The X Files, and Third Rock From the Sun.

He is famous among musical theater aficionados for his work in Carousel, wherein he introduced such standards as "If I Loved You" (with Jan Clayton as Julie Jordan) and "Soliloquy," the seven-minute musical monologue for an expectant father that occurs near the end of the show's first act. Though Raitt received the Theatre World Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Donaldson Award for his performance, he didn't recreate the role on film. (It went to Gordon MacRae.) But he did play Billy in many productions after his original Broadway run and he often sang songs from the show in concerts and on television, including The Ed Sullivan Show and the General Foods 25th anniversary tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Born in Santa Ana, California in 1917, Raitt graduated from the University of Redlands. He appeared with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company and at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium before making his film debut in small roles in the early 1940s. Prior to Carousel, he replaced Alfred Drake as Curly in the national tour of Oklahoma!. Later, he starred in tours and stock productions of such musicals as Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, Shenandoah, 1776, South Pacific, Man of La Mancha, and Kismet.

In addition to his daughter Bonnie, Raitt is survived by his sons Steven and David, all from his first marriage to Marjorie Haydock. That marriage ended in divorce (in 1971), as did Raitt's subsequent marriage to Kathleen Smith Landry. In 1981, he wed Rosemary Kraemer, who also survives him. To access Michael Buckley's 2003 TheaterMania interview with Raitt, click here.