James Rado—co-creator and star of the ‘60s musical Hair, which became a hit on Broadway with its story about hippies and the anti-war movement—died Tuesday evening in New York City. He was 90.
News of Rado’s death was announced by his friend and publicist Merle Frimark. Frimark also confirmed that Rado’s cause of death was cardio respiratory arrest.
Born in Venice, California on January 23, 1932, Rado would spend many years on the Broadway scene in productions like Luther, Generation, Marathon ‘33, and The Knack before meeting his writing partner and friend Gerome Ragni. The two began to collaborate on writing a musical about hippie counter-culture and their participation in the anti-war movement, leading to the creation of Hair. Frimark says that Ragni “came aboard with some of his exciting experimental poetry, his own brand of homespun humor, and a potent theatrical imagination,” per Deadline.
Opening on Broadway for the first time on April 29, 1968, Hair became an iconic piece of ‘60s culture and featured such firsts for Broadway like being the first show to feature full nudity and a same-sex kiss, reports The Associated Press.
Starring in the original cast as the lead roles of Claude and Berger, Rado and Ragni, along with Hair’s music composer Galt MacDermot, would also go on to win a Grammy Award for Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album in 1969.
“There was a wonderful warmth in the hippie atmosphere, a sense of freedom,” said Rado in a 2008 interview with The Advocate, describing the ‘60s flower child culture influence on the musical. “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.”
Many of the songs grew beyond the Broadway world and became big radio hits, with The 5th Dimension winning Record of the Year at the 1970 Grammy Awards for the recording of “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In.” Nina Simone (“Ain’t Got No/I Got Life”), The Cowsills (“Hair”), and pop singer Oliver (“Good Morning Sunshine”) all saw chart success with their versions of Hair tracks.
In 2009, Rado was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame alongside Ragni and MacDermot. Since Hair, Rado had worked on the music and lyrics for the off-Broadway show Rainbow, as well as re-collaborating with Ragni on the musical Sun. Ragni died in 1991, while MacDermot died in 2018.
Rado is survived by his brother Ted Rado, sister-in-law Kay Rado, nieces Melanie Khoury, Emily DiBona, Melissa Stuart, great nieces, and a great nephew.