James Rado, Co-Creator of iconic “Hair” musical, dead at 90

Playwright James Rado, best-known as the co-author and lead actor in iconic, counter-culture Broadway musical, Hair, has passed away in a Manhattan hospital. His reported cause of death was cardiorespiratory arrest, said his publicist and longtime associate, Merle Frimark.

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Born in Los Angeles and raised in Rochester, NY, Rado began his journey as a playwright and actor at the University of Maryland. He starred in a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” while acting and helping write several other plays. Thereafter, he spent two years in the U.S. navy before returning to D.C. for graduate study at the Catholic University of America. Following his studies, Rado made his way to New York City where he studied with acting coach Lee Strasberg and, in the early 1960s, formed a singing group called James and the Argyles.

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Furthermore, Rado acted in numerous Broadway and off-broadway productions during this period — which included a part in Marathon ’33, and the original Broadway production of The Lion in Winter — but after meeting Gerome Ragni in 1964, his breakthrough would come during the counter-culture hippie bubble of the 1960’s. In a time of social and political unrest, James Rado and Gerome Ragni embraced the hippie ideals where race, sexuality and identity were merely options and not pre-determined.

The plot revolves a group of hippies called the “Tribe,” who are on a journey of self-discovery. Their leader, a sensitive young man named Claude, who grapples with his place in the world. He and the Tribe find their way while trying to escape the grasp of what they considered a flawed system. Between draft-card burnings, love-ins, bad LSD trips and a parade of protest marches, drugged-out hippies and outraged tourists who don’t approve of the world’s goings-on. Rado and Ragni wrote the the play’s dialogue and the song lyrics.

“We were very serious about studying these new theater techniques for the actor and the playwright. And we became aware of what was going on around us in the streets,” Rado said in a 2014 interview with Broadway World.

There [were] protest marches in the village and in the parks. There was this manifestation of this new person called the Hippie. We found so much excitement in the real world that we felt wasn’t experienced by your average theatergoing, Broadway audience. We thought that we could somehow take the excitement that we experienced ourselves, what we felt the Hippie thing was about, and that basic peace and love message that they were living and breathing, and bring that to the stage. We thought we could share our excitement and our experience, and I think we achieved that.

Hair won a Grammy in 1969 and was made into a hit-film in 1979. The Broadway show ran for nearly 2000 performances in both London and New York. Songs from Hair have been recorded by numerous artists, including Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli.

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After a split with Ragni in the early 1970’s, the duo reunited to co-write the audio movie, Sun and the musical, Jack Sound and His Dog Star. Despite not reaching the same success with other productions, Hair remains a seminal work that still resonates today. Subtitled as “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical,” hair presented same- sex kissing, a multiracial cast and nudity as every day happenings. While the values around identity and anti-war sentiments remain relevant.

James Rado was survived by his brother, he was 90-years-old.

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