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Tony Award-winning Producer Martin Richards Dies at 80

Broadway to dim marquee lights for theatrical legend who also won Oscar for the film version of Chicago and helped created Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. logo

Martin Richards
© Joseph Marzullo/WENN
The marquees of Broadway theaters will be dimmed tonight at 7pm in honor of Oscar winner and Tony Award-winning producer Martin Richards, who died peacefully at his home in Manhattan on Monday, November 26. He was 80 years old and had been battling cancer.

Richards, who was born Morton Richard Klein, studied acting as a child and appeared on Broadway in 1944 in the musical Mexican Hayride. He gave up acting when his voice changed at 13. According to an interview with New York Magazine, he was not happy about his early retirement: "My mother said, ‘Now you can lead a normal life,' and I said, ‘Yes, a normal depressed life."

He went on to study architecture at NYU, but continued to perform at night as a singer. Eventually, he returned to acting full-time until 1962, when he took a job as a casting director at Fox and Paramount.

In 1972, Richards switched careers once again. He produced the off-Broadway show, Dylan, which won an Obie Award. His first foray on Broadway was in 1975 as one of the original producers of the Kander and Ebb musical Chicago, and later that year, he also was a producer of Alan Ayckbourn's three-part comedy, The Norman Conquests.

In the mid-1970s, Richards began a great friendship with Mary Lea Johnson, the daughter of Johnson & Johnson heir Seward Johnson, who was in the midst of an unhappy second marriage. In 1976, they co-founded The Producer Circle Company. The couple married in 1978 and stayed together until Johnson died of cancer in 1990.

The first Broadway show Richards and Johnson produced together was the 1978 musical On the Twentieth Century. Richards continued to produce shows on Broadway for the next 37 years, including the original production of the musical Sweeney Todd, for which he won the first of his five Tony Awards.

His many other shows included the original production of La Cage aux Folles and its 2004 revival, Grand Hotel, The Will Rogers Follies, The Life, Crimes of the Heart, and his last Broadway show, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life. "What a privilege to have shared a part of his flamboyant history," Rivera said in a statement about her friend, "Through Marty and his courageous eye and infallible taste, I have inherited gifts I had never imagined would come my way. I loved him dearly and will miss him every day of my life. I have lost a great friend."

In addition to his work on theater, Richards also produced a handful of films throughout his lifetime, including the 2002 big-screen version of Chicago, starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture . He also produced The Shining, The Boys from Brazil, and Fort Apache the Bronx.

Noted philanthropists, Richards and Johnson were instrumental in founding Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Meals on Wheels. In 1994, Richards established the Mary Lea Johnson Richards Institute at New York University Medical Center for organ transplantation and research. In 1995, he co-founded the Children's Advocacy Center of Manhattan.

In addition, Richards served on the President's Council for the Gay Men's Health Crisis, was a member of The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, served on the Board of Governors of the League of American Theaters and Producers, and was a member of The Trust for Cultural Resources of the City of New York and the Mayor's Advisory Council for Theatre.

Richards' survivors include his brother, Bruce Klein, his niece, Lisa Kirschner, and his nephew, Sean Klein.