Martin Richards, a colorful Oscar and Tony-winning producer whose entertainment career spanned seven decades, died at his home in New York City on November 26 after a long illness, a family spokesperson confirmed to Broadway.com. He was 80.
Richards’ productions of Sweeney Todd, La Cage aux Folles and The Will Rogers Follies won Tonys for Best Musical, and he received Best Musical Tony nominations for On the Twentieth Century, Grand Hotel and Sweet Smell of Success and a Best Play nomination for the Pulitzer Prize winner Crimes of the Heart. In total, his shows won more than 40 Tony Awads. His other Broadway credits included The Norman Conquests, A Doll’s House, Goodbye Fidel, Grind and Sally Marr…and Her Escorts. His most recent Broadway credit was the 2005 biographical musical Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life.
As producer of the big-screen adaptation of Chicago, a musical he had championed since raising the money for its original 1975 Broadway production, Richards took home the 2003 Academy Award for Best Picture. His other film credits included Some of My Best Friends Are, The Boys From Brazil, The Shining and Fort Apache the Bronx.
Born Morton Richard Klein in the Bronx in 1932, Richards made his Broadway debut at age 12 opposite June Havoc in the Broadway musical Mexican Hayride. He moved on to performing in nightclubs, and after a two-year stint studying architecture at NYU, settled in to a career as a casting director in theater and film. He made his name by championing Kander & Ebb’s Chicago.
In 1978, the openly gay Richards married Johnson & Johnson heiress Mary Lea Johnson. Their union was happy both personally and professionally, and they helped fund the Producers Circle, which Richards had formed with Robert Fryer and James Cresson. A string of Broadway hits followed.
Richards and Johnson lived lavishly in a 14-room River House apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side and an oceanfront mansion in Southampton. She died in 1990 of complications from a liver transplant, and Richards donated millions to establish the Mary Lea Johnson Richards Research Institute at NYU Medical Center and the New York Center for Children, which cares for abused children and their families. He ended his Oscar acceptance speech by thanking "my two angels that sit on my shoulder all the time, my dear Mary Lea and my late partner Robert Fryer."
Richards is survived by his brother Bruce Klein and a niece and nephew. Memorial donations may be made to the New York Center for Children or the Mary Lea Johnson Richards Institute.