James Rado, actor, playwright and director best known for creating (with collaborator Gerome Ragni) the groundbreaking 1967 production “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” has died at age 90.
A publicist and friend of Rado’s confirmed to The Associated Press that he died of cardiopulmonary arrest Tuesday in New York.
“Hair”, with music by Galt MacDermot, broke taboos and boundaries. It was arguably the first rock ‘n’ roll musical to appear on Broadway (in 1968, a year after its off-Broadway debut), paving the way for things like “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Rent” and d countless jukebox musicals (if you hate ‘Rock of Ages’, you can blame ‘Hair’).
The show’s inventive staging, which encouraged audiences to participate in the “Be-In” finale and frank depiction of sex (including frontal nudity and gay kissing) and drug use were seen as truly taboo. On Broadway, “Hair” ran for 1,800 performances and Rado was a main cast member. “Hair” also spawned several radio hits, including “Age of Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine,” and “Easy to Be Hard.”
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While “Hair” lost the Tony, it won a Grammy, and in 2019 the Broadway cast recording was inducted into the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.
A film version of the play, directed by Miloš Forman, was released in 1979 and was nominated for several awards, including a César and two Golden Globes. The film version of “Hair” was included in the New York Times list of the 1000 Greatest Movies of All Time.
Rado and Ragni initially parted ways (Ragni collaborated with MacDermot on the Broadway production of “Dude” in 1972) and Rado worked on the Off-Broadway production of “The Rainbow Rainbeam Radio Roadshow” (also in 1972), seen by many (especially in restagings) as a kind of sequel to “Hair”.
In 1974, Rado and Ragni reunited. By the time of Ragni’s untimely death from cancer in 1991, they had collaborated on a sequel to “Hair.” Since Ragni’s death, Rado had largely overseen Operation “Hair”, including a version shot in 1994 which he also directed.