Robert Arthur, Man Behind the Music on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' Dies at 89

Courtesy of Robert Arthur
From left: Robert Arthur, producer Bob Precht and Ed Sullivan in 1968 on the set of the variety show

The songwriter-composer worked with all the artists, including The Rolling Stones, and adjusted the lyrics to "Let's Spend the Night Together."

Robert Arthur, the longtime music coordinator on The Ed Sullivan Show who famously tweaked the lyrics to "Let's Spend the Night Together" so The Rolling Stones could perform in 1967 on the iconic CBS variety show, has died. He was 89.

Arthur died Jan. 21 at his Topanga Canyon home in Los Angeles, his wife, Jeanne, told The Hollywood Reporter.

A songwriter and composer, Arthur worked with newspaper columnist-turned-TV host Ed Sullivan from 1952, when he was hired to assist the Toast of the Town music director, until The Ed Sullivan Show (thus renamed in 1955) departed the airwaves for good on June 6, 1971.

As a vital behind-the-scenes player on the Sunday night staple, Arthur handled all the music for Sullivan, arranging and composing songs for and working with such guests as The Beatles, Judy Garland, Sly Stone, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, Kate Smith, Count Basie, Perry Como, Bill Haley & His Comets, Harry James, Diana Ross, Itzhak Perlman, Edith Piaf, The Platters, The Vienna Boys' Choir, Connie Francis, Bo Diddley, Mitzi Gaynor — and that's just a sample.

"Ed's main interest was in booking the show and finding the acts. … It was sort of up to us to figure out exactly what that person might do on the show," Arthur told Vanity Fair's Nick Tosches in 1997.

The Stones, who had been on the show before, were booked for Jan. 15, 1967, and wanted to perform a new song, the sexually charged (well, in those days, at least) "Let's Spend the Night Together." That line would not go over well with the CBS censors.

"Well, at that time, that was absolutely … it would be like saying, 'Fuck, fuck, fuck.' People's eyes would roll in their heads at the network," Arthur said. "So I was sent to deal with them, because I was also a songwriter … and I came up with a phrase that was almost the same thing and sounded almost the same, and it was, 'Let's spend some time together.' Mick Jagger agreed."

Jagger appeared to roll his eyes as he sang the substituted line, and one wonders how many in the screaming audience noticed the difference.

Arthur was born in New York on May 10, 1928, in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing. He learned to play the piano as a youngster, and at Colgate University, he majored in economics and Spanish and wrote two musicals.

After graduation in 1949, he became an accompanist, conductor and arranger, then served as a bayonet instructor during the Korean War. Back in New York, Arthur was hired by famed arranger and orchestra conductor Ray Bloch to work on the CBS shows hosted by Sullivan and Jackie Gleason.

After the end of the Sullivan program, Arthur moved to Los Angeles, where he helped Dick Clark launch the American Music Awards. He also produced videos that Michael Jackson showed during his concerts; co-wrote the Natalie Cole hit "All About Love"; and had his tunes performed by Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis.

In addition to his wife of 20 years, survivors include his son Adam; brother Peter; sisters-in-law Anne and Elisabeth; and niece Jacqueline. His wife asks that in lieu of flowers, a donation be made to a favorite charity.