Robert Stigwood, manager of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame groups like Cream and the Bee Gees and producer of films like Saturday Night Fever and Grease, passed away. Stigwood was 81. Spencer Gibb, the son of Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb and Stigwood’s godson, was the first to confirm Stigwood’s death, Reuters reports. No cause of death was given.
“A creative genius with a very quick and dry wit, Robert was the driving force behind The Bee Gees career, as well as having discovered Cream, and subsequently managing Eric Clapton,” Gibb wrote on Facebook. “I would like to thank Robert for his kindness to me over the years as well as his mentorship to my family. ‘Stiggy,’ you will be missed.”
The Australian-born Stigwood started out in the music industry by forming a management company during the Swinging London scene, working with singer Joe Leyton and influential pop producer Joe Meek. After signing a production deal with EMI, poor business decisions – as well as a disastrous Chuck Berry tour that his company promoted – forced Stigwood to refocus on management. In 1966, Stigwood became the booking agent for an emerging act called the Who, who recorded their single “Substitute” on Stigwood’s Reaction Records.
Soon after, Stigwood found himself at the helm of a group comprised of members of two other bands he managed; Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker from the Graham Bond Organization and Eric Clapton from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Leveraging his power as the Who’s booking agent, Stigwood was able to promote his new band – Cream – setting them on their course to rock history. Stigwood would remain Clapton’s manager through Blind Faith, Derek & The Dominoes and the guitarist’s solo career.
In 1967, Stigwood also signed the Bee Gees, the result of the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein passing along their demo tape to Stigwood, who was recruited to join Epstein’s North End Music Stores (NEMS) company. “I loved their composing,” Stigwood told Rolling Stone in 1977. “I also loved their harmony singing. It was unique, the sound they made; I suppose it was a sound only brothers could make.”
Stigwood signed the Bee Gees to a five-year contract, which kicked off with their breakout singles “New York Mining Disaster 1941” and “To Love Somebody.” Following Epstein’s death in 1967, Stigwood formed his own company – the Robert Stigwood Organisation (RSO) – that expanded its grasp to musical theater and, ultimately, film production. RSO did everything from bringing Broadway musicals like Hair and Pippin to London’s West End to releasing the soundtracks for The Empire Strikes Back and Fame on RSO Records.
As a film producer, Stigwood similarly specialized in taking stage musicals to the big screen with Grease, the Who’s Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar. However, his greatest success from both a music and film standpoint was 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, with the film’s Bee Gees-led companion album becoming the bestselling soundtrack of all time and the winner of the 1979 Album of the Year Grammy winner. The soundtrack also landed on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Stigwood himself commissioned the Bee Gees to record songs for the soundtrack; speaking to Rolling Stone in 1977, Stigwood admitted that he was surprised by the success of songs like “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever” and “More Than a Woman,” considering the Bee Gees wrote the tracks in one week. “Give me eight minutes – eight minutes, three moods. I want frenzy at the beginning. Then I want some passion. And then I want some w-i-i-i-ld frenzy,” Stigwood instructed the Bee Gees before they wrote “Stayin’ Alive,” according to Barry Gibb.
However, not everything Stigwood touched was successful: His all-star reimagining of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1978, liberally adapted from an off-Broadway show about the Beatles’ classic album, was considered a critical and commercial disaster, and sequels to Saturday Night Fever and Grease did not match their predecessors. By 1984, Stigwood largely withdrew from RSO. His last on-screen credit was as producer of 1994’s Evita, based on Tim Rice’s play.
“Farewell to the extraordinary innovative generous Robert Stigwood. A vital part of my life,” Rice tweeted. “Thanks for so much, Robert.” Andrew Lloyd Webber added, ” “Farewell beloved Robert, the great showman who taught me so much.”