George Furth was a versatile and prolific actor, playwright and librettist, who collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on some of the most acclaimed and innovative musicals of the 20th century. He was also a familiar face on the screen, appearing in dozens of films and TV shows, often as a nerdy or quirky character. He died on August 11, 2008, at the age of 75, leaving behind a rich and diverse body of work. But what was the cause of his death? And what was his journey from Chicago to Broadway and Hollywood?
Early Life and Career
George Furth was born as George Schweinfurth on December 14, 1932, in Chicago, Illinois. He was the son of George and Evelyn Schweinfurth, and had German and Irish ancestry. He was raised as a Christian Scientist, and attended Northwestern University, where he earned a degree in psychology. He later received a master’s degree from Columbia University.
He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, where he pursued a career in acting. He made his Broadway debut in 1961, in the play A Cook for Mr. General. He also appeared in several films and TV shows, such as Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless, General Hospital, The Boston Strangler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Myra Breckinridge, Blazing Saddles, Shampoo, Oh, God!, The Cannonball Run, The Man with Two Brains, and Bulworth. He was often cast as a bespectacled, ineffectual milquetoast, or a comic relief.
Collaboration with Sondheim
Furth’s most notable and lasting contribution to the theatre world was his collaboration with the legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. They first met in 1968, when Furth wrote a series of one-act plays called The War Brides, which Sondheim saw and liked. Sondheim suggested that Furth turn them into a musical, and offered to write the music. The result was Company, a groundbreaking and cynical musical about the lives and relationships of a group of urban professionals. The musical, directed by Harold Prince and choreographed by Michael Bennett, opened on Broadway in 1970, and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book for Furth.
Furth and Sondheim teamed up again in 1981, for Merrily We Roll Along, a musical based on a 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The musical told the story of three friends and their careers in show business, in reverse chronological order. The musical, also directed by Prince, was a flop, closing after 16 performances. However, it has since gained a cult following, and has been revised and revived several times.
Their third and final collaboration was Getting Away with Murder, a non-musical play about a group of strangers who are suspects in a murder case. The play, co-written by Furth and Sondheim, opened on Broadway in 1996, but was also a failure, closing after 17 performances.
Other Works and Awards
Besides his collaborations with Sondheim, Furth also wrote several other plays and musicals, such as Twigs, The Supporting Cast, Precious Sons, and The Act. He also wrote the book for the musical The End, with music by Doug Katsaros, which was performed in San Francisco in 2004. He also wrote a column for the Huffington Post, and appeared as a guest on several TV shows, such as Morning Buzz, Access Hollywood, The Wendy Williams Show, The Today Show, and more.
Furth won several awards and honors for his work, including a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Drama-Logue Award, and a Writers Guild of America Award. He was also nominated for an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, and a Golden Globe Award.
Death and Legacy
Furth died at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, on August 11, 2008, according to his agent, Dennis Aspland.He had no immediate survivors.
His death was mourned by his fans, friends and colleagues, who remembered him as a talented, creative and generous person, who had a unique style and a bright smile. They also celebrated his achievements and contributions to the theatre and film industry, where he was respected and admired by his peers and audiences.
George Furth’s cause of death may remain a mystery, but his legacy lives on in his works, his shows and his memories. He was a brilliant and beloved actor, playwright and librettist, who brought joy and innovation to many people’s lives.