"Fiddler On The Roof" Composer Jerry Bock Dies

By AccessHollywood.com Editorial Staff
|  Wednesday, Nov 3, 2010  |  Updated 9:15 PM EDT
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"Fiddler On The Roof" Composer Jerry Bock Dies

AP

In this Nov. 1, 2006 file photo, Broadway composer Jerry Bock poses before rehearsal of "The Apple Tree," in New York. Bock died Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010, at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco of heart failure.

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Jerry Bock, who composed some of the most memorable shows in Broadway history, including the melodies for"Fiorello!" and "Fiddler on the Roof," has died. He was 81.

Richard M. Ticktin, Bock's attorney and family friend, said the composer died Wednesday morning at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., of heart failure.

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Together with lyricist Sheldon Harnick, Bock wrote the powerful score to "Fiddler on the Roof," one of the most successful productions in the history of the American musical theater, having an initial run of eight years. It earned the two men Tony Awards in 1965.

"He was wonderful to work with," said Harnick, who collaborated with Bock for 13 years. "I think in all of the years that we worked together, I only remember one or two arguments — and those were at the beginning of the collaboration when we were still feeling each other out. Once we got past that, he was wonderful to work with."

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Bock had recently spoken at a memorial service for "Fiddler" playwright Joseph Stein, who died Oct. 24. "So now two of the three creators of 'Fiddler on the Roof' have passed away within three weeks of each other," said Ticktin.

Bock and Harnick first hit success for the music and lyrics to "Fiorello!," which earned them each Tonys and a rare Pulitzer Prize for a musical in 1960. In addition, Bock was nominated for Tonys in 1967 for "The Apple Tree" and in 1971 for "The Rothschilds."

"The world will remember him as a gentle human being with great talent who was a collaborator in musical theater. Jerry believed that the essence of musical theater was the collaboration — working with your colleagues, trying to make a unified whole out of disparate parts," Ticktin said.

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Born Jerrold Lewis Bock in New Haven, Conn., Bock was the son of a traveling salesman father and a mother who played the piano by ear. The young composer took up the piano at age 9, but admitted he was often impatient with formal lessons and preferred to improvise.

At the University of Wisconsin he found his first collaborator, Larry Holofcener, a fellow student who became his lyricist. The two collaborated on the Broadway musical "Mr. Wonderful" in 1956, a vehicle for Sammy Davis Jr., who was making his Broadway debut. Bock's second complete score for the Broadway theater was "The Body Beautiful" in 1958. The boxing-themed musical had a book by Stein and Will Glickman, but quickly failed at the box office.

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Bock and Harnick were first introduced at a restaurant by actor Jack Cassidy after the opening-night performance of "Shangri-La," a musical in which Harnick had helped with the lyrics.

They would form one of the most influential partnerships in Broadway history. Producers Robert E. Griffith and Hal Prince had liked the songs from "The Body Beautiful," and they contracted Bock and Harnick to write the score for their next production, "Fiorello!," a musical about the reformist mayor of New York City.

"He was a brilliant composer, and with Harnick, they made a great team. He could write music that was as real and redolent of Jewish shtetl life, and a year earlier, a perfect Viennese light, almost opera, with beautiful soaring melodies," Prince said Wednesday. "He could get into the skin of all this very diverse music. He was enormously intelligent and perceptive and funny — a very, very funny fellow, both personally and creatively."

Bock and Harnick then collaborated on "Tenderloin" in 1960 and "She Loves Me" three years later. Neither was a hit, but their next one was a monster that continues to be performed worldwide: "Fiddler on the Roof."

Based on stories by Sholom Aleichem that were adapted into a libretto by Stein, "Fiddler" dealt with the experience of Eastern European Orthodox Jews in the Russian village of Anatevka in the year 1905. It starred Zero Mostel as Teyve, had an almost eight year run and offered the world such stunning songs as "Sunrise, Sunset," ''If I Were a Rich Man" and "Matchmaker, Matchmaker."

Bock and Harnick next wrote the book as well as the score for "The Apple Tree," in 1966, and the score for "The Rothschilds," with a book by Sherman Yellen, in 1970. It was the last collaboration between the two: Bock decided that the time had come for him to be his own as a lyricist and he put out two experimental albums in the early 1970s.

In 2004, Bock said his favorite moment in the creation of a song was playing it with his collaborator. "If it works, we say, 'Wow!'" Bock said. "There's no reward like it — to finish a song and celebrate it with your partner."

"His career represents Broadway as good as it gets," Prince said.

Recalling his old friend, Harnick said Bock was someone filled with laughter: "He was a terribly funny man, a very witty man. And sometimes, the two of us would be just hysterical with laughter."

Survivors include Bock's wife, Patti, daughter Portia Bock, son George Bock and granddaughter Edie Mae Shipler. Funeral services will be private, his lawyer said.

Copyright 2010 by Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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