A look at Bob Fosse's life

EntertainmentTheaterMusical TheaterBroadway TheaterDanceDeathCharity

The following obituary ran in the Chicago Tribune on September 25, 1987

Bob Fosse
NEW YORK--Nobody made a Broadway musical move like Bob Fosse.

From "The Pajama Game" in 1954 to "Big Deal" more than three decades later, each one of Fosse's 12 Broadway shows was stamped with his special sleek, sexy style.

It started in "Steam Heat" and "Hernando's Hideaway," two show- stopping numbers from "The Pajama Game," with the seeds of what later would be called Fosse trademarks-snapping fingers, thrust pelvises, and angular, almost jerky arm and leg movements.

Fosse's choreography had its roots in the nightclubs and burlesque houses of Chicago, where he worked as a teen-age hoofer. Those memories later made it to the screen in Fosse's autobiographical film "All That Jazz." In Chicago, he learned how to dazzle audiences. He gave them entertainment-right to the end.

Fosse, who won every major entertainment award, collapsed and died of a heart attack Wednesday on a sidewalk outside his hotel just before the opening of the revival of his "Sweet Charity" at the National Theater. He was 60.

The cast went on with the show not knowing that their director had died, toasting him later at a somber opening night party, a theater spokeswoman said.

"It's devastating," said Cy Coleman, who composed the music for "Sweet Charity." "Bobby was just too alive to be dead....Everybody who has been in contact with Bobby will feel that he lives within all of us. I got something in my life that will stay with me until I go."

The hard-driving, fiercely competitive Fosse prided himself on being a showman, refusing to curtail his pace despite past heart problems and a five- to-six-pack-a-day cigarette habit.

He collapsed just yards from the theater as he left for a break with Gwen Verdon, his former wife and a dancer who starred in many of his works over the years.

"He never made it to opening night," said Alma Viator, a theater spokeswoman.

Fosse, long a mainstay of the Broadway musical theater, was one of the most widely acclaimed choreographers of recent decades.

"Sweet Charity," one of Fosse's most enduring creations, first opened on Broadway in 1966, with Verdon as the original Charity. It was acclaimed for its choreography, with one critic writing, "postures, stances, gestures and weary collapses of the one-time 10-cents-a-dance girls are brilliantly, tenderly and bitingly visualized."

In dancer Verdon, Fosse met the woman he believed could entertain better than anyone else. Their professional partnership began in 1955 with "Damn Yankees" and continued through three more musicals-"New Girl in Town," "Redhead" and "Sweet Charity."

It was with Miss Verdon, whom he later married, that Fosse made the important transition from choreographer to director.

Fosse was a practical, no-nonsense director. If a dance number damaged a show or slowed it down, out it went. He never tried consciously to make a statement. Entertainment won out over art, especially in such later shows as "Pippin" and "Dancin"'.

Fosse's Broadway track record was astonishing. Only his last musical, "Big Deal" in 1986, flopped out after a short run. Every other Fosse production was a hit.

In one year, Fosse garnered awards in every major entertainment medium- movies, television and the stage. He captured an Oscar in 1972 for his film "Cabaret," the story of a British cabaret singer adrift in the depraved bohemianism of Berlin in the 1930s, plus a Tony for his Broadway musical "Pippin," and an Emmy for his television special starring Liza Minnelli, "Liza With a Z."

In a 1986 interview after returning to work on Broadway following an eight-year hiatus, Fosse, a Manhattan resident, said the work had gotten more difficult.

"There's more stress involved. The stakes are so high, and there's such a sense of pressure."

"They're lionizing all these other people, and I'd think: 'You want to see some dancing? I'll show you some dancing.' " Work, he said, was "a way of staying alive," and also of gaining immortality.

"There's something about trying to create something that gives people pleasure, something about camaraderie-maybe somebody will remember you," Fosse said. "Maybe somebody will say, 'He was a good showman; he gave us good shows. You could always count on him for an evening's entertainment.' "

Fosse, the son of a vaudeville singer, was born in Chicago on June 23, 1927. As a 9-year-old, he liked to dance on stoops and garbage cans. He formed his first nightclub act at age 13 and performed in clubs around the Midwest. He made his Broadway debut as a dancer at age 23.

Fosse was married and divorced three times, to Mary Ann Niles, Joan McCracken and Verdon.

From the Associated Press.

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