Robert Stigwood, Former Bee Gees Manager and 'Grease' Producer, Dies at 81

From left: Robert Stigwood with the Bee Gees: brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb.

Stigwood made the leap from music to film and TV production by the early '70s with hits 'Saturday Night Fever' — which included a two-LP soundtrack written by and featuring the Bee Gees — and 'Grease.'

Robert Stigwood, who acted as manager of Cream and the Bee Gees before producing some of the all-time great rock musicals including Saturday Night Fever and Grease, has died. He was 81. 

Australia-born Stigwood's first major career success came when he started representing John Leyton in 1961, helping to secure the English singer and actor a role on the U.K. TV series Harpers West One. That deal included an arrangement for Leyton's character to perform a song on the show, which became the top-charting hit "Johnny Remember Me," produced by experimental pop producer Joe Meek. 

The track launched a string of British hit recordings for the team of Leyton, Stigwood and Meek, as well as helped kick off a new era of independent British music production. It also helped the sort of joint management and recording deals Stigwood carried on through his career. 

In 1966, Stigwood became The Who's booking agent by reportedly paying the band's managers £500. This deal also empowered him to lure the band away from Brunswick Records to record the now famous single "Substitute" on his own Reaction Records label. 

That same year, Stigwood began managing a new band called Cream made up of the best musicians from two groups he had under contract — guitarist Eric Clapton from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker from the Graham Bond Organisation. Stigwood's connection to The Who helped him showcase Cream overseas, in New York, and ultimately break the band in America with striking psychedelic imagery painted on its instruments, commissioned by Dutch art collective The Fool. 

In 1967, Stigwood began managing the Australian teenage vocal group the Bee Gees. Though the U.K. release of the band's first Australian chart-topping hit "Spicks and Specks" was a flop, an intensive promotional campaign helped make "New York Mining Disaster 1941" the Bee Gees' first international hit, with many more following. 

By the late '60s, Stigwood's vision had expanded across the entertainment industry and he began overseeing theater productions, starting with the West End staging of Hair. Further theatrical hits followed, many coming from or going to Broadway, including Oh! Calcutta!, The Dirtiest Show in Town, Pippin and Sweeney Todd

Stigwood made the leap into film and TV production by the early '70s. His first hit was an adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973, followed by the film version of The Who's Tommy in 1975. Massive success came next with Saturday Night Fever in 1977, which included a two-LP soundtrack written by and featuring his client the Bee Gees, and then the beloved rock-and-roll musical Grease in 1978.  

Though several commercial failures followed, he did find success later with the Madonna-starring musical Evita, which won the 1997 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture.

Here are some of Stigwood's friends and contemporaries online tributes following his death. 

 

I would like to share the sad news with you all, that my godfather, and the longtime manager of my family, Robert...

Posted by Spencer Gibb (Official Artist Page) on Monday, January 4, 2016

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.

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