Michael Butler, Producer Of Broadway's Original HAIR, Passes Away At 95

Butler brought the groundbreaking musical from the Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theatre to Broadway in 1968.

By: Nov. 08, 2022
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Michael Butler, famed producer of the musical Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, passed peacefully November 7, 2022 at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda, CA. He was born November 26, 1926 in Chicago, Illinois.

Butler is best known as the force who brought Hair from the Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theatre to Broadway in 1968, where it ran for 1,750 performances. Hair's famous tribe brought drugs, anti-war politics, rock 'n roll music and even the audience onto the stage for the first time. At that time Hair changed everything: theater, Broadway, politics, film, music.

By the 1970s, Hair had played in more than 25 countries, in 14 languages, and seen by over 25 million people; today it is estimated that over a billion people have seen some version of the musical.

At the time of his passing, Butler had worked for two years with producers Matthew Herrmann and Conwell Worthington on a revival of Hair with a new production now scheduled for spring 2023 at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, California. The production includes new revisions to the book by the original author James Rado, the last surviving member of the main creators -- Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot. Rado passed June 22, 2022.

Butler produced 31 different productions of the show, including the original Los Angeles production at the Aquarius Theatre that ran for two years and a 2007 production at the Met Theatre. Hair had a Broadway revival in 2009, which won the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Revival of a Musical.

Butler's involvement with theater included work on Lenny, The Golden Apple, West Side Story, The Trial of the Catonsville 9, and Reggae on Broadway. He was also the producer of the Hair film and You Are What You Eat. Butler also founded with partners a number of discoteques including Talisman, Inferno, Ondine, Hippopotamus and LeBison.

Hair defined the "rock musical," exuberantly celebrating the hippie counterculture, anti-war movement and sexual revolution of the 1960s with a rainbow score of hits - including "Aquarius," "Hair," "Easy to be Hard," "Where Do I Go?" "Good Morning Starshine," and "Let the Sunshine In" - that have become ingrained into pop culture. Billboard magazine said that HAIR's score is "the most successful score in history as well as the most performed score ever written for the Broadway stage."

Butler had said, "Hair was the Oklahoma! of its time. It was as though all of Broadway stopped in its tracks as we were able to define relevancy, not just for a theatre audience, but for an entire generation. Everyone had to see it - more as an experience than a show -- and the numbers of productions we oversaw really couldn't satisfy the demand at its height."

The original Broadway "tribe" (i.e. cast) included co-creators Gerome Ragni and James Rado, Melba Moore, Lamont Washington, Shelley Plimpton, Lynn Kellogg, Sally Eaton, Steve Curry, and Diane Keaton. Other notable actors who appeared in early Hair productions include Ted Neeley, Joe Mantegna, Heather MacRae, Dale Soules, Meat Loaf, Keith Carradine, Paul Jabara, Donna Summer, Ted Lange, Tim Curry, Elaine Paige, Jennifer Warnes, Richard O'Brien, Loretta Devine, Ellen Foley, David Patrick Kelly, Charlayne Woodard, and Vicki Sue Robinson

Simultaneously, worldwide productions of HAIR sprouted with some 14 companies running including a London production which ran for 1,997 performances. Hair played in England, Scotland, France, Australia, Mexico, Italy, Japan, Israel, Finland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Yugoslavia, Norway, Austria, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Switzerland and more, breaking records in every major world capitol. A feature film adaptation was released in 1979, directed by Academy Award winning, Milos Forman.

Music from Hair is still heard or performed daily all over the world. A highlight of the 2021 film Summer of Soul directed by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, is The Fifth Dimension performing "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. Their certified Platinum hit single was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Hair Broadway cast recording, which charted at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums for 13 weeks, sold 3 million copies in the US by December, 1969 and won the Grammy Award for Best Score Original Cast Album in 1970. Thousands of recordings have been made from the Grammy Award-winning score by Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni. Other recording artists including The Cowsills, Three Dog Night, Oliver, The Supremes, Nina Simone and Barbra Streisand covered songs from the score.

More about Michael Butler

Although his theatrical resume is impressive, Michael Butler's accomplishments are not limited to the entertainment industry.

Butler is the son and grandson of the founders of the Oak Brook Polo Club in Illinois established in 1922. Butler managed the club for many years and with his sister Jorie, invited His Majesty. King Charles III (then H.R.H. Prince Charles) to Oak Brook to play in 1986, at which time His Majesty served as captain of the British Team. Michael played polo all around the world, primarily in the US, UK, Jamaica and Mexico. He was a member of Guards Polo Club (UK), the All-Ireland Polo Club, National Steeplechase & Hunt, United States Polo Association and Hawaii Polo Club.

Butler's interest in athletics led him to an active participation in many other sports including tennis and yachting. He served in many positions including Whipper-In Oak Brook Hounds, Chairman U.S. Equestrian Trials Committee, Vice Commodore Talisman Corinthian Yacht Club, President SkiClub 10, Governor United States Polo Association, Chief Umpire of U.S., Chairman of the Oak Brook Polo Club, Chicago Polo Club, Captain Oak Brook Polo Team and the Warfield Polo Team.

Butler was also a life member of Explorer's Club, The Art Institute of Chicago, Oceanographic, National Geographic, the Knickerbocker, Racquet & Tennis, (NY) and the Bears.

His interest in his community and world affairs led him to fill civic roles in both local and national politics. He served as Special Advisor to Senator John F. Kennedy on the Middle East, and was appointed by Robert F. Kennedy to manage Governor Otto Kerner's campaign for re-election as Governor of Illinois. He was the first Chancellor of the Lincoln Academy and was decorated as Laureate with the Order of Lincoln.

He was Commissioner of the Port of Chicago, President of the Organization of Economic Development in Illinois, P.A. to Governor Otto Kerner, President of the Illinois Sports Council, and a Democratic Candidate in Du Page County for the State Senate. He was on the Advisory Board of Global Youth Action Network. In the business world, Butler served as V.P. of General Sales for the family's Butler Paper Company. He worked with Butler Overseas, Overseas Bank Ltd., Basic Investment Corporation, Vision, Rand Hotel Corporation, Dugda I and Dugda II, Patherdi Coal Washeries, and on the reconstruction of Hejaz Railroad in the kingdom of Jordan. He also participated in numerous real estate projects including work with Talisman Development, Sugarbush, Oak Brook Development Company, Old Oak Brook, and Oak Brook Hills Hotel and Golf Course.

Michael Butler was born in Chicago, Illinois to Paul Butler and Marjorie von Stresenreuter.
His Anglo-Irish family first arrived in America in the early 1600s, and his first American born Butler ancestor, Lt. Wm. Butler, was born in 1653 in Massachusetts. In 1841, Michael's great uncle Oliver Morris Butler built a paper mill on the Fox River in Illinois which produced fine printing paper, the first such mill ever built west of Pittsburgh, and a Butler paper mill produced the first American made paper used in the U.S. Senate. In 1857, Oliver's brother Julius Wales Butler became the agent and subsequently the owner of what became the J.W. Butler Paper Company, which also had warehouses on State Street in Chicago, IL. It was the oldest family owned business in Chicago. The family were at one time were the largest private landowners in Du Page County.

He is survived by his son Adam Butler, Adam's wife Michelle, and his grandson Liam. He is also survived by his sister Jorie Butler Kent and her daughter Reute Butler as well as his half-sister Wendy Dunaway and her two daughters Missy West and Jorie Waterman. In lieu of flowers the family would appreciate contributions to his favorite charity, Jorie and Reute's Friends of Conservation, of which he is a founding director. http://www.friendsofconservation.org