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Music mogul Stigwood dies

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Longtime former Bermuda resident Robert Stigwood, the international music, theatre and film impresario, has died at the age of 81.

Friends of the Australian-born manager of legendary bands the Bee Gees and Cream have paid tribute to a “giant” of popular culture.

“He was a very good friend,” said former Premier Sir John Swan, “not only to me but Bermuda as a whole.”

Sir John described Mr Stigwood as a great ambassador to Bermuda, who spoke very highly of the Island.

“He was quite an impresario who produced many stage and screen musicals, managed the careers of many pop bands and had a very keen eye for the arts,” Sir John said.

“He encouraged a lot of people to come and visit Bermuda and, obviously, was a hugely influential figure in the world of global entertainment.”

Sir John said his good friend was a generous donor, who quietly supported many cultural projects on the Island.

“He was an enthusiastic person,” he added.

“He loved people; he was a people person. He was just a down-to-earth, approachable individual.”

Mr Stigwood was a frequent presence in Bermuda during the 1970s and 1980s, living first at the Palm Grove estate in Devonshire before purchasing the Wreck House property in Sandys.

His two luxury yachts, Sarina and Jezebel — the latter once described as “a floating fantasy” by The New York Times — were familiar sights in Bermuda's waters for many years.

Musical promoter and former nightclub operator Tony Brannon became close friends with Mr Stigwood during his time in Bermuda and stayed in touch with him long after Mr Stigwood, who was known to many as “Stiggy”, left the Island in the early nineties.

“He was a giant in the pop world,” Mr Brannon told The Royal Gazette. “He was a giant in the West End music theatricals. He was really good at getting the best out of his artists.

“He was friendly with everybody,” he added.

“He knew all the governors and hosted Princess Margaret when she was here. He was very, very generous and very, very kind.”

Mr Brannon fondly remembers going for lunch at Mr Stigwood's Wreck Hill property with the likes of John Travolta and Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon, as well as the “famous parties” Mr Stigwood hosted on board his yachts, which were often seen moored alongside The Flagpole on Front Street.

Mr Stigwood left his native Australia for London in the 1950s to pursue a career promoting pop acts. His transition from a rock band manager and producer to multimedia entertainment magnate started in the late '60s when he saw the musical Hair on Broadway and decided to produce it in London's West End.

He went on to produce the stage and movie versions of Jesus Christ Superstar, a film adaptation of The Who's rock opera Tommy and brokered the deals which repackaged British TV shows Til Death Do Us Part and Steptoe & Son as All In The Family and Sandford & Son on American television in the early 1970s.

A 1976 Rolling Stone magazine profile described Mr Stigwood “as constant traveller, a bachelor with homes in Los Angeles, New York and Bermuda … a peripatetic power broker with a penchant for style and a fondness for life in the grand manner”.

And the New York Times once called the self-made tycoon “a combination of PT Barnum, Mike Todd and Jay Gatsby” — a description which delighted Mr Stigwood and one he often quoted.

In a lengthy career profile focusing on Mr Stigwood's time in Bermuda, The Royal Gazette's editorial consultant Tim Hodgson said that Mr Stigwood was planning a slate of new movies when he first arrived here in 1976.

One of those films was a low-budget production based on a New York magazine article about the disco subculture called Tribal Rites Of The New Saturday Night; the film's title was later changed to Saturday Night Fever.

Starring a relatively unknown John Travolta, the film told the story of a Brooklyn paint store clerk who escapes his dead-end existence on the disco dancefloor. A massive commercial and critical success when it was released in 1977, the film became an international pop cultural phenomenon. It popularised disco music around the world, spawned trends in everything from dancing to fashion to hairstyles and turned Mr Travolta into a superstar.

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album, released by Mr Stigwood's RSO recording label, featuring four new songs by the Bee Gees and two previously released hits, sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

Some Bee Gees songs from the soundtrack — How Deep Is Your Love, Night Fever and More Than A Woman — were sketched out in Bermuda when the band stayed with Mr Stigwood at Palm Grove in the summer of 1976.

And the infectious theme song Stayin' Alive — which topped the US singles charts for a month and was once famously described as “a kind of national anthem for the '70s” — was largely completed here.

Speaking to a Netherlands radio interviewer in 2002, the late Bee Gee Maurice Gibb said Stayin' Alive was “really born, I think, more in Bermuda than anywhere else. We finished it off in France.”

Also while in Bermuda Mr Stigwood produced the '50s-era rock'n'roll movie musical Grease, which co-starred John Travolta and Australian singer Olivia Newton-John, and the West End and Broadway versions of the stage show Evita along with a later film adaptation starring Madonna.

He hosted such visiting luminaries as the Duchess of York, Mr Travolta, film director Ken Russell and pop star Cyndi Lauper at his Wreck Road mansion before moving to the Isle of Wight in the 1990s.

Mr Stigwood lived near London at the time of his death.

Robert Stigwood off his Wreck Hill, Bermuda estate from at Home Magazine in 1987 (Photograph by Wiliam Strode)
Sadly missed: Robert Stigwood

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Published January 05, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated January 05, 2016 at 8:37 am)

Music mogul Stigwood dies

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