Martin Richards, a Broadway and Hollywood showman whose own life was often as flamboyant and warmhearted as his many productions, died of cancer Monday at his Upper East Side New York home. He was 80.
Winning the Best Picture Oscar for his movie musical Chicago at the 2003 Academy Awards – he had also produced the original Broadway version in 1975 – Richards had to hold back the tears as he recalled those he had worked with on the show, including the late legendary director-choreographer Bob Fosse and Richards’s late producing partner and wife, Mary Lea Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company family.
Besides Chicago, Richards produced the original Broadway productions of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd; Jerry Herman’s La Cage aux Folles; Beth Henley’s drama Crimes of the Heart; as well as the musicals Grand Hotel, The Will Rogers Follies, On the Twentieth Century and, a personal favorite of his (though not necessarily of the critics’), The Life.
As a movie producer his credits include Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, based on the Stephen King horror classic and starring Jack Nicholson; The Boys from Brazil, starring Gregory Peck and Sir Laurence Olivier, and Fort Apache, The Bronx, starring Paul Newman.
In all, his stage productions received 36 Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, seven Outer Critic Circle Awards and two New York Drama Critics Awards.
Yet throughout his career, Richards – born Morton Richard Klein – remained close to his Bronx roots. His glittering parties at his and Mary Lea Richards’s sprawling apartment in Manhattan’s plush River House and their mansion on Southampton’s Gin Lane always included Marty’s childhood pals, as well as such stars as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who, along with Chita Rivera, hosted Martin’s 80th birthday earlier this year.
As generous philanthropists, Martin and Mary Lea Johnson Richards were instrumental in founding Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Meals on Wheels. After Mary Lea’s death from liver cancer in 1990, Martin went on to establish the liver and kidney transplant unit at the NYU Medical Center that bears his wife’s name.
Richards also created the New York Center for Children to care for abused children and their families.