Martin Richards, veteran Broadway and movie producer, dies at 80


Producer Martin Richards celebrates after “Chicago” won the Academy Award for best picture on March 23, 2003. (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
November 27, 2012

Martin Richards, the Tony Award-winning producer behind such Broadway hits as “On the Twentieth Century,” “Sweeney Todd” and “The Will Rogers Follies,” as well as an Academy Award-winning producer of the movie “Chicago,” died Nov. 26 at his home in New York. He was 80.

Publicist Judy Jacksina said Mr. Richards had cancer.

Mr. Richards’s Broadway productions included “Crimes of the Heart” (1981), the original 1983 production and 2004 revival of “La Cage aux Folles,” “The Norman Conquests,” “Grand Hotel” and “The Life.”

He was the producer of the original “Chicago” on Broadway in 1975 and went on to win an Academy Award for producing the film version in 2003.

His other films include Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980), starring Jack Nicholson; “The Boys From Brazil” (1978), featuring Gregory Peck; and “Fort Apache, The Bronx” (1981), with Paul Newman.

Mr. Richards was born Morton Richard Klein in the Bronx. At 10, he appeared on Broadway in the 1944 Cole Porter musical comedy “Mexican Hayride.” As an adult, he sang in nightclubs under the stage name Mart Richards.

He later became a casting director before launching a producing career off-Broadway with the show “Dylan” (1972), which was a commercial and critical success.

That led to producing work on “Chicago,” “On the Twentieth Century” (1978), “Sweeney Todd” (1979), and other stage hits.

Despite being openly gay, Mr. Richards was married in 1978 to Mary Lea Johnson, heiress to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, who said she endured a childhood of sexual abuse by her father and then two early traumatic marriages.

Her marriage to Mr. Richards was, by many accounts, a very happy one. Mr. Richards told New York magazine, “The macho part of me wanted to protect her. She made me feel handsome and virile, she gave me everything.”

The Richardses were instrumental in founding Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Meals on Wheels. Mr. Richards also created the New York Center for Children to care for abused children and their families.

Johnson died in 1990, triggering a long court battle between Mr. Richards and several of her children from a previous marriage. The children argued that because Johnson was no longer alive, Mr. Richards was not entitled to a share of the $360 million family trust fund set up by her father, J. Seward Johnson Sr., in the 1960s.

In 2008, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Mr. Richards’s favor, noting that trust fund documents indicated the eligibility of widows and widowers of J. Seward Johnson’s children.

Mr. Richards’s survivors include a brother.

— From staff and wire reports

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