Manager to Bee Gees and Clapton had golden touch

Robert Stigwood.
Producer Robert Stigwood signed the Bee Gees (above) in 1967.
Producer Robert Stigwood signed the Bee Gees (above) in 1967.PHOTO: UNIVERSAL

NEW YORK • Robert Stigwood (left), the Australian-born producer, personal manager and music executive, whose blockbuster hits with the Bee Gees and work on the films Saturday Night Fever and Grease made him one of the most successful impresarios of the 1970s, has died. He was 81.

Spencer Gibb, a son of Robin Gibb, one of the three brothers who made up the Bee Gees, confirmed the death in a Facebook post, calling Stigwood his godfather and "the longtime manager of my family", but not saying when or where he died.

For most of the 1970s, Stigwood had a golden touch in music, theatre and film, recognising early on the cross-promotional power of pop music and theatrical spectacle. He managed the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton, had producing credits on Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978), and released multiplatinum soundtracks to those films on his label, RSO.

Of the 19 singles that reached No. 1 on Billboard's pop chart in 1978, eight were released by RSO - including several from the Saturday Night Fever album, among them the Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive and Night Fever and Yvonne Elliman's If I Can't Have You.

RSO's symbol, a red cartoon cow, became a ubiquitous pop-culture brand of the time, and Newsweek called Stigwood "the Ziegfeld of the disco age". Sandy-haired and ruddy-cheeked, he lived his success as one of the music industry's classic high-flying entrepreneurs, conducting business by yacht or from his homes in Bermuda, Beverly Hills and elsewhere around the world.

He was a producer of the 1975 film Tommy, based on The Who's concept album of the same title and, in 1971, produced Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway, establishing its long-haired creators, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, as emergent auteurs of the rock-opera era.

Lloyd Webber paid tribute to Stigwood on Twitter on Monday, calling him "the great showman who taught me so much".

Rice wrote: "Farewell to the extraordinary innovative generous #RobertStigwood. A vital part of my life."

Robert Colin Stigwood was born in Adelaide, Australia. His father was an electrical engineer and his mother ran a nursing home. After working briefly as an advertising copywriter in Adelaide, he moved to London.

In the early 1960s, he started a talent agency for actors and made a deal with EMI, unusual at the time, as an independent record producer. In 1966, he became the manager of Cream, the rock supergroup with Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, and was briefly associated with The Beatles.

Brian Epstein, The Beatles' manager, had merged his company with Stigwood's, but after Epstein died in 1967, the group started its own company, Apple Corps, and Stigwood formed the Robert Stigwood Organization and its affiliated label, RSO. He also signed the Bee Gees, who had been child stars in Australia, shortly after their arrival in London in 1967, and promoted young pop stars such as David Bowie and Rod Stewart.

Stigwood's theatre ventures began in the late 1960s when he brought risque Broadway hits such as Hair and Oh! Calcutta to London. He continued to work in theatre, producing Lloyd Webber and Rice's Evita in London in 1978.

To maximise income from the shows, he cracked down on unlicensed performances of Jesus Christ Superstar in the United States, including high-school productions.

In 1978, just as his empire appeared invincible, he stumbled with a film version of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, starring the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and George Burns, which reportedly cost US$12 million to make and another US$6 million to market. It was pilloried by critics and was a disappointment at the box office. Sequels to Saturday Night Fever and Grease also flopped.

In 1980, he suffered another setback when the Bee Gees sued him for US$200 million, saying he had swindled them of royalties. Stigwood countersued for defamation and breach of contract, and the two parties settled out of court and publicly reconciled.

RSO continued to release records into the early 1980s, including the soundtracks to The Empire Strikes Back and Fame, but was eventually absorbed into the major PolyGram, now part of the Universal Music Group.

In 1996, he was a producer of Alan Parker's film version of Evita. In his later years, the British news media frequently ranked him as one of the wealthiest people in Britain.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline 'Manager to Bee Gees and Clapton had golden touch'. Print Edition | Subscribe