O'Donnell won the Tony for co-writing the book of Hairspray with Thomas Meehan. The pair later collaborated on Cry-Baby, for which he earned a Tony nomination.
His other plays included Private Fittings, That's It, Folks! Fables for Friends, The Nice and the Nasty, Strangers on Earth, and Vertigo Park. He also wrote several novels and books of short stories.
He received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the George S. Kaufman Award.