Jim Steinman, songwriter for Meat Loaf and Celine Dion, dies at 73

Jim Steinman had a stroke four years ago and his health had recently been declining, said his manager.
Jim Steinman had a stroke four years ago and his health had recently been declining, said his manager.PHOTO: CELINEDION/INSTAGRAM

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - American composer Jim Steinman, who worked with artistes like Meat Loaf, Celine Dion and Bonnie Tyler, died on Monday (April 19) in Danbury, Connecticut. He was 73.

Steinman's longtime manager David Sonenberg announced the death. He said that Steinman had a stroke four years ago and that his health had recently been declining.

Steinman had a wide-ranging resume that included writing Tyler's 1983 No. 1 hit, Total Eclipse Of The Heart, and serving as composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's lyricist on Whistle Down The Wind (1996).

But his career-defining achievement was Bat Out Of Hell, a record that no major label wanted but that has now sold tens of millions of copies.

He wrote all the songs on Bat Out Of Hell, Meat Loaf's operatic, teenage-angst-filled 1977 debut album, which remains one of the most successful records of all time.

Although the various lists of the top sellers differ in how they compile the rankings and categorise albums, Bat Out Of Hell routinely lands near the top of any such list, along with albums like late singer Michael Jackson's Thriller and rock band The Eagles' Their Greatest Hits and Hotel California.

Appearing at a time when disco and punk were in vogue, Bat Out Of Hell was defiantly different. It contained only seven songs, all of them heavy on drama and influenced by the opera music Steinman had loved since he was a boy.

In an era of three-minute songs, the title track, which opens the record and is about a motorcycle crash, is a mini-opera in itself, clocking in at nine minutes 48 seconds.

Another track, Paradise By The Dashboard Light, is almost 8½ minutes long and includes a segment in which Phil Rizzuto, the New York Yankees broadcaster and former star shortstop, narrates a sexual tug of war between Meat Loaf's horny male character and a resistant female, a part sung by Ellen Foley.

Bat Out Of Hell sold slowly at first but eventually took off, propelled by Meat Loaf's exhaustive touring and some favourable radio play in a few markets.

It was one of Steinman's earliest successes, and it had recently come full circle in a sense - Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical, a stage production written by Steinman, opened in Manchester, England, in 2017.

Its story, a sort of post-apocalyptic Peter Pan, was something Steinman had envisioned almost 50 years ago.

"This was meant to be a musical," Meat Loaf, 73, told The New York Times in 2019, when the show had a brief run at New York City Centre in Manhattan.

"I made it a rock show. Jimmy turned it around and made a musical. That's what he wanted it to be."

Meat Loaf and Steinman collaborated again on Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell, a 1993 album that yielded another Meat Loaf hit, I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That).

Among many other songs, Steinman also wrote It's All Coming Back To Me Now, a Top 10 hit for Celine Dion in 1996.

His works tended to be vivid in their imagery and heavy on drama.

"Most people don't like extremes," he once said. "Extremes scare them. I start at 'extreme' and go from there."

Some detractors called his songs schlocky, but not Meat Loaf.

"Every Jim Steinman song is alive," he told The Lancashire Telegraph of England in 2016, when Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical was preparing to open.

"It's not just pen on a piece of paper. It lives, it walks around, it haunts you, and it'll eat at your heart and soul."

Steinman was born Nov 1, 1947, in Hewlett, New York, on Long Island. He attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, where, he said, he was such a borderline student that people were betting money on whether he would graduate.

"When I did graduate," he told an audience at the college in 2013, when he returned there to accept an honorary doctorate, "I got a huge standing ovation from about 80 per cent of the people, who had bet on me graduating."

In 1969, while at Amherst, he created a musical called The Dream Engine, which drew attention beyond Amherst; theatrical producer Joseph Papp of the New York Shakespeare Festival, he said, came to see it.

After Steinman had graduated, Papp commissioned him to help write a musical called More Than You Deserve, which ran at the Public Theatre in 1974. That introduced him to Meat Loaf (born Marvin Lee Aday), who was in the cast.

While Meat Loaf went from that project to a role in the cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Steinman contributed music to another show at the Public, Kid Champion, which starred Christopher Walken.

Then Steinman and Meat Loaf found themselves together again on a National Lampoon touring show.

Steinman had by then begun playing around with his idea for the post-apocalyptic Peter Pan, writing several songs for it.

When he could not secure the rights to the elements of the Peter Pan story that he wanted, he channelled those songs into Bat Out Of Hell, recruiting his friend to bring them to life.

Record producer Todd Rundgren eventually agreed to produce the record, but no big label wanted it; Sonenberg often joked that he thought people were creating new record labels just for the purpose of rejecting Bat Out Of Hell.

Eventually Cleveland International Records, a small label distributed by CBS, took a chance.

Meat Loaf and Steinman had their differences over the years, including legal ones, but they continued to work together.

Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, released in 2006, was not a pure collaboration like the previous two Bat Out Of Hell albums, but it did include some Steinman songs.

Braver Than We Are, Meat Loaf's 2016 album, again consisted of Steinman songs.

Steinman also wrote the score for Tanz Der Vampire, a parody musical based on the 1967 Roman Polanski film, The Fearless Vampire Killers.

The show had its premiere in Vienna in 1997 and has enjoyed success in Europe.

But a 2002 Broadway version, Dance Of The Vampires, with Steinman providing the lyrics and contributing to the book, lasted less than two months.

"The overall effect is of a desperately protracted skit from a summer replacement variety show of the late 1960s," theatre critic Ben Brantley wrote in The Times, "the kind on which second-tier celebrities showed up to make fun of themselves."

Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical seemed on track to do better, but a United States tour was aborted in 2019 in a financing dispute.

Mr Sonenberg said the project was expected to get back on track once the Covid-19 pandemic lifts.