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Broadway legend Cy Coleman dies at 75

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Nov. 20, 2004 at 1:53 AM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Cy Coleman, the legendary composer of such Broadway show tunes as "Big Spender" and "If They Could See Me Now," has died at 75.

Coleman's publicist, John Barlow, told the New York Times the composer died of heart failure Thursday night at New York Hospital, after attending the premiere of Michael Frayn's new play, "Democracy," at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theater.

"He felt unwell at the party afterward," said Barlow, "and collapsed at the hospital."

Coleman's collaborations with other Broadway legends -- including Dorothy Fields and the team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green -- netted him 14 Tony nominations. He won three Tonys for his scores for "On the Twentieth Century," "City of Angels" and "The Will Rogers Follies."

His best-known shows included "Sweet Charity," with book by Neil Simon and lyrics by Fields, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. The show, which included the show-stopping tunes "Big Spender" and "If They Could See Me Now," was adapted for the 1969 Shirley MacLaine movie "Sweet Charity," which earned Coleman an Oscar nomination for his score.

One of his standards, "The Best Is Yet to Come," was featured in the movies "Heartbreakers" and "What Women Want," as well as the TV series "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

At the time of his death, Coleman was vice chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Composers and Publishers.

ASCAP President and Chairman Marilyn Bergman said the music world would miss Coleman's music and his friendship.

"Cy's intellect and integrity, coupled with his warmth and humor, made him a vital and effective presence on the ASCAP Board of Directors for 38 consecutive years, more than half of his life," said Bergman. "He was dedicated to ASCAP, even as he pursued a world-class career as a composer."

Bergman had collaborated with Coleman over the past year on the score for a new musical, "Like Jazz," which is planned for a 2005 opening on Broadway.

Coleman was recently honored in Los Angeles with a Nov. 6 tribute by The Actors' Fund. An all-star lineup featuring Bergman, comedy writer Larry Gelbart and Actors' Fund President Brian Stokes Mitchell presented Coleman with the organization's Nedda Harrigan Logan Award, named in honor of the first woman president of the Actors' Fund.

"The Actors' Fund is saddened by the loss of the irreplaceable Cy Coleman," said Mitchell upon hearing the news of Coleman's death. "We have been good friends for many years, and I just can't believe he's gone."

Coleman's Broadway hits included "Wildcat," "Little Me," "I Love My Wife" and "Barnum." The list of standards he composed includes "Pass Me By," "Hey, Look Me Over," "Real Live Girl," "I've Got Your Number" and "The Colors of My Life."

Cy Coleman was born Seymour Kaufman on June 14, 1929, in New York to East European Jewish immigrant parents. His father was a carpenter and his mother owned apartment buildings.

Coleman said the family's first piano came from a tenant who "skipped out on the rent" and left the instrument behind. He said he became obsessed with the piano and was given lessons when he was 4 years old.

He turned out to be a prodigy, giving solo recitals at Steinway, Town and Carnegie Halls. After graduating from the High School of Music and Art, he worked at nightclubs and became a successful studio musician.

With a particular affinity for jazz, Coleman teamed up with lyricist Joseph A. McCarthy for "Why Try to Change Me Now," which was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1952. Coleman then teamed with Carolyn Leigh to write "Witchcraft," which became a major hit for Sinatra in 1958 -- and a standard in the American pop songbook -- and prompted Coleman to devote full time to composing.

Coleman's movie scores included "Father Goose," "The Art of Love," "Garbo Talks" and "Family Business."

Coleman was nominated for six Emmy Awards, winning in 1976 for Outstanding Special, Comedy, Variety or Music for the Shirley MacLaine special "Gypsy in My Soul," and in 1975 for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy, Variety or Music Special for "Shirley MacLaine: "If My Friends Could See Me Now."

Coleman was a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Johnny Mercer Lifetime Achievement Award and The ASCAP Foundation Richard Rodgers Award.

In an interview last month, Coleman told the Times he had no plans to retire.

"It won't work for me," he said. "I'm lucky to be in a profession where you can keep getting better. To put it in musician's terms, my chops are good."

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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