• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

James Rado, star and co-creator of the seminal Broadway musical Hair, dies at 90

·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

James Rado, one of the creators of the beloved and groundbreaking musical Hair has died at the age of 90.

The writer died Tuesday night in New York City of cardiorespiratory arrest, says his friend and publicist Merle Frimark.

In addition to being one of its stars, Rado co-wrote the story and lyrics for Hair with Gerome Ragni, while the music was composed by Galt MacDermot. Debuting in 1967, the show is credited with bringing rock music to Broadway and was the first production on the Great White Way to feature nudity and a same-sex kiss.

James Rado attends James Rado's 80th birthday celebration at the Copacabana on January 23, 2012 in New York City.
James Rado attends James Rado's 80th birthday celebration at the Copacabana on January 23, 2012 in New York City.

Jeffrey Ufberg/WireImage James Rado

The original Broadway cast recording of the album stayed atop the Billboard 200 for 13 weeks upon its release. Tracks from the show, such as "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" and "Good Morning, Starshine," have gone on to become sensations in their own right, earning covers by the Fifth Dimension and Oliver, respectively. The Cowsills version of "Hair" and Three Dog Night's rendition of "Easy to Be Hard" also landed in the charts. For their work on the show, Rado and his team took home a Grammy for Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album.

Hair's arrival to a rather traditional theater scene sparked controversy. The musical incited protests over its inclusion of nudity and its critical outlook on racism and U.S. involvement in Vietnam, while its overt sexuality clashed with the wholesome mainstream American values of the day. Some speculate that because of this the show is met with resistance even today.

Rado portrayed Claude, a young man on the cusp of being drafted to fight in the war in Vietnam. Along with his best friend, Berger, he finds himself amid protest marches, love-ins, and drug trips in New York City.

"There was a wonderful warmth in the hippie atmosphere, a sense of freedom," Rado told The Advocate in a 2008 interview, describing how he set out to capture the "hippie culture" of the time. "Men would just come up to you and take you in their arms, and it was so freeing and felt so good. It's a psychological truth that had been so blocked from human behavior."

The Tony-nominated hit was revived in 1977 and 2009, the later incarnation snagging the coveted Tony award for Best Musical Revival. That same year, Rado was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Hair as famously adapted for the screen by director Miloš Forman in 1979.

Born in Venice, Calif., Rado was raised in Rochester, N.Y., and Washington, D.C. He served two years in the U.S. Navy before moving to New York to study acting. He eventually secured roles in notable productions such as Marathon '33, The Lion in Winter, The Knack, and Hang Down Your Head and Die. The stage ventures saw him collaborate with some of the most acclaimed actors and directors of that era, including Christopher Walken and Mike Nichols.

Hair continues to be a major part of contemporary pop culture, its songs having appeared in films like Forrest Gump, Minions, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin as well as on the small screen in So You Think You Can Dance, Glee, My Name Is Earl, and even in a nude tribute featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda and James Corden.

Related content: