Craig Zadan, one of the entertainment world’s most prolific producers of film and television musicals, including the hit 1984 movie musical Footloose, the Oscar-winning film Chicago, and the cult TV hit Smash, has died at age 69. Zadan’s sudden death was announced in a statement by NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“It is with profound sadness that I am announcing the passing of my dear friend and colleague Craig Zadan, who died of complications following shoulder replacement surgery. On behalf of his life partner, Elwood Hopkins, and his producing partner, Neil Meron, we are stunned that the man behind so many incredible film, theatre, and television productions — several of them joyous musicals — was taken away so suddenly. Craig’s distinguished career as a passionate and consummate producer is eclipsed only by his genuine love for the thousands of actors, directors, writers, musicians, designers, and technicians he worked with over the years. His absence will be felt in our hearts and throughout our business.”
Zadan and Meron worked together since the 1970s and were one of the top producing teams in show business. In addition to Chicago, the duo produced the big screen adaption of Hairspray as well as NBC’s recent string of five live TV musicals: The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz, Hairspray, and Jesus Christ Superstar. At the time of his death, Zadan was working on TV productions of Hair and Bye Bye Birdie, originally set to star Jennifer Lopez, for NBC.
It’s with great sadness that we mourn the loss of Craig Zadan, executive producer of NBC’s live musicals. Craig’s distinguished career is eclipsed only by his genuine love for the thousands of people he worked with over the years. His absence will be deeply felt. pic.twitter.com/DBEzKWB54V
— NBC Entertainment (@nbc) August 22, 2018
Zadan and Meron also produced several Broadway revivals and three Oscars telecasts, earning six Academy Awards of their own, as well as five Golden Globes, 17 Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, two Tony Awards, a Grammy Award, and more.
Reaction to Craig Zadan’s sudden death swept Hollywood and the theater community.
Neil Patrick Harris posted a remembrance to Zadan on Twitter, writing, “I’m stunned and saddened by the unexpected passing of Craig Zadan. He’s been a friend my entire adult life, championed me to host the Oscars, and brought musical theatre back to TV. A wonderful, kind spirit. My sincere condolences to his family and his partner, Elwood.”
Broadway star Kristen Chenoweth also paid tribute to Zadan, writing, “Annie, The Music Man, Promises, Hairspray… Craig, you were there with me from the beginning. This is a true loss not only for me, but for the world. Rest in peace, sweetheart.”
Derek Hough, one of the stars of NBC’s Hairspray, described Zadan as “a true champion of arts” in a poignant Instagram post.
“My heart is heavy,” Hough wrote. “All I can see is Craig’s kind, warm and encouraging eyes. So much joy and passion exuded from his presence. A true champion of the arts. Innovator and just a brilliant example. A true loss.”
Smash star Katharine McPhee and Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda also paid tribute to the beloved producer. You can see more celebrity reaction to the death of Craig Zadan below.
They don’t make them like this anymore. Such a smart, talented and kind person who‘ll be hugely missed. https://t.co/IfXPIOgNNa
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) August 22, 2018
Wow so sad to hear about Craig Zadan. He had music and dance in his soul. And when people are dancing and singing the world is a better place. RIP Craig and Cut Loose!
— Kevin Bacon (@kevinbacon) August 22, 2018
Immensely saddened to hear of the passing of my friend Craig Zadan. He was a fantastically talented, visionary producer who brought so much to every project he touched, and had so much more still to give. His loss is deeply felt by all who had the good fortune to know him.
— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) August 22, 2018
Craig Zadan, together with Neil Meron, made a career and a LIFE of bringing musical theater into homes and to people everywhere, how do you begin to express gratitude for such a wondrous thing #RIPCraigZadan
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) August 22, 2018
I am shocked and saddened to hear of Craig Zadan’s passing. We collaborated on several projects…and he was always a joy to work with. His kindness and his creativity will surely be missed.
— Barbra Streisand (@BarbraStreisand) August 22, 2018
Shocked and saddened by the news of the passing of @craigzadan. A wonderful producer and even better friend. Thanks for sharing your art with the world Craig. ❤️
— Lance Bass (@LanceBass) August 22, 2018
RIP to our friend Craig. He produced Jesus Christ Superstar with us and also produced the Oscars when Common and I sang "Glory" in front of a replica of the Pettus Bridge. A wonderful producer and a lovely man. https://t.co/pFSSSaabhM
— John Legend (@johnlegend) August 22, 2018
thinking of my dear friend, craig zadan, and his family right now. thank you for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime and for believing in me. without you, there would be no SMASH. may you rest in peace. ????❤️ pic.twitter.com/CMReUYjk4x
— Kat McPhee (@katharinemcphee) August 22, 2018
Zadan had been excited to work on a live TV adaption of Hair. In June, he told Indiewire the time seemed right to revive the 1960s-set rock musical.
“We thought Hair would be the most exciting coolest thing, because also its time had come around again,” Zadan said earlier this summer. “In 1967 it was timely, and now, sadly, the country is in a state where it’s timely yet again, with the student protests and the riots and the race relationships.”
Hair Live! was originally slated for spring 2019 on NBC.