'Dinosaurs' producer Billy May dies

Produced more than 40 theatrical productions

William H. "Billy" May, a renowned entertainment producer, director and composer, died Dec. 31 at St. Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. He was 56.

May's latest creation, "Walking With Dinosaurs -- The Live Experience," is a $20 million arena show that transports audiences back 65 million years to walk with 15 realistic dinosaurs. This production, one of the largest and most acclaimed shows to come out of Australia, is now touring two productions in North America and Europe.

"Dinosaurs" was the best-selling nonmusic tour of 2009, according to Pollstar, and the 12th biggest tour of the year. The show last year sold more than 1 million tickets and grossed $46.2 million, according to the magazine.

Over the past 30 years, he and partner Malcolm Cooke produced more than 40 theatrical productions on stages on Broadway, the West End and in Australia. Those included the musical "Always," the love story of King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, for which May co-wrote the book, music and lyrics; "Boswell for the Defense," a 1989 production that starred Leo McKern as Scottish barrister James Boswell; "The Hobbit"; and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

At age 12, May was awarded scholarships to Carnegie Hall for dance and to the New York High School of Performing Arts. He honed his abilities as a performer, composer and writer, touring with such acts as Sonny & Cher and the Osmonds.

By age 19, he had ventured to Australia and partnered with Cooke to discover and manage Australian singer Samantha Sang. May enlisted Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees to write and produce a song for Sang, resulting in the 1977 international hit "Emotion."

May returned to New York at age 24 and became the youngest producer on Broadway with his musical debut, "Marilyn -- An American Fable," the life story of Marilyn Monroe.

May is survived by Cooke, his longtime life and business partner. Funeral services will be held Jan. 12 at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in East Melbourne. May asked that donations be sent to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne.