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.
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.
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.