Robert Stigwood, force behind 'Saturday Night Fever' and 'Grease,' dies

Story highlights

  • Robert Stigwood, who produced "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease," dies at 81
  • The Australian-born producer also managed the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton

(CNN)Robert Stigwood, the Australian-born producer who managed the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton before becoming a creative force behind "Saturday Night Fever," "Grease" and other cultural blockbusters of the 1970s, has died. He was 81.

His death was announced Monday on Facebook by his godson Spencer Gibb, a son of the Bee Gees' Robin Gibb. No further details about his death were given.
    "A creative genius with a very quick and dry wit, Robert was the driving force behind The Bee Gees career, as well as having discovered Cream, and subsequently managing Eric Clapton," Gibb wrote. "I would like to thank Robert for his kindness to me over the years as well as his mentorship to my family. 'Stiggy,' you will be missed."
    Stigwood's career took off in late-1960s London after he became a booking agent for The Who and the promoter for Cream, the rock trio featuring Clapton on guitar. After the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein gave him their demo tape, Stigwood also signed the Bee Gees in 1967.
    "I loved their composing," he told Rolling Stone in 1977. "I also loved their harmony singing. It was unique, the sound they made; I suppose it was a sound only brothers could make."
    Soon afterward Stigwood formed his own production company, the Robert Stigwood Organisation, or RSO, and broadened his scope into musical theater and movies. RSO managed the young composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, helped launch the hit musicals "Hair" and "Pippin" and later produced the film versions of rock operas "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Tommy."
    "He was the last, in my view, of the great, great showmen," Webber told the BBC Tuesday. "His enthusiasm for ... music, and success in music, was unequaled."
    Stigwood continued to manage Clapton through his appearances in Blind Faith and Derek & the Dominos and during his solo career. But the Bee Gees, after a handful of big hits, had seen their popularity plummet by the mid-1970s. Stigwood helped steer them away from ballads and toward falsetto-tinged disco, which revived their career.
    In 1977 he recruited them to record songs for the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack. Buoyed by hits like "Stayin' Alive" and "Night Fever," it topped the charts around the world and went on to to sell more than 15 million copies.
    Stigwood followed that in 1978 with another musical sensation, the movie "Grease," which united "Fever" star John Travolta with Olivia Newton-John and spawned another blockbuster soundtrack.
    It was a watershed year for Stigwood and his company. Of the 19 singles that topped Billboard's pop chart in 1978, eight were released by RSO.
    Later projects were less successful. A movie musical based on the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" bombed, and sequels to "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease" were largely forgettable.
    However, Stigwood did score another hit by producing the 1996 movie adaptation of "Evita," the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, starring Madonna in the title role.