Arthur Kopit, whose 1969 Braodway play Indians was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and later adapted as the film Buffalo Bill and the Indians starring Paul Newman, died Friday in New York. He was 83.
His death was announced by spokesman Rick Miramontez. No cause of death was disclosed.
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Kopit’s seven-decade stage career began when he was still a Harvard undergraduate, with his 1963 play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad getting an Off Broadway production that later moved to Broadway with Jerome Robbins directing.
Indians, about the life of Buffalo Bill Cody and an early example of the era’s anti-Western genre, opened on Broadway in 1969 and starred Stacy Keach, Manu Tupou, Raul Julia and Sam Waterston, among others. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Indians was adapted by director Robert Altman in 1976 as (full title) Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson, with Newman leading a cast that included Joel Grey, Kevin McCarthy, Geraldine Chaplin, Denver Pyle, and Harvey Keitel.
His 1978 play Wings, about a woman who suffers a stroke, was Kopit’s second Pulitzer finalist. The Broadway production starring Constance Cummings was filmed for a 1983 television presentation.
Kopit wrote the book for the 1982 Tony-winning musical Nine, with a score by Maury Yeston. Based on Federico Fellini’s 1963 film 8½, Nine starred Raul Julia on Broadway and, in a 2003 revival, Antonio Banderas. Rob Marshall directed a 2009 film adaptation starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, and Sophia Loren.
The playwright also wrote the book, with music by Yeston, for Phantom, a 1991 adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera, a project Kopit began prior to the 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that became the wildly successful version.
Kopit returned to Broadway in 1998 with High Society, music by Cole Porter. The production received lukewarm reviews and closed after five months.
Kopit’s other credits include End of the World, with Symposium to Follow; a new translation of Ibsen’s Ghosts; Road to Nirvana; BecauseHeCan (originally entitled Y2K); A Dram of Drummhicit (written with Anton Dudley); and numerous one act plays. His most recent projects include Discovery of America, a play based on the journals of the Spanish conquistador, Cabeza de Vaca; and two new plays, Secrets of the Rich and The Incurables.
He was a member of the Dramatists Guild and New York’s Lark Play Development Center, where he headed the Lark Playwrights’ Workshop.
“Arthur was one of the most uncompromisingly original writers that America ever produced,” said Kopit’s longtime friend and collaborator Yeston. “A genuine born playwright, his work possesses the kind of universality that is understood by the entire human race, across all cultures and languages. The worlds he created come to life inside the minds of every audience member who has the good fortune of attending one of his shows. But his greatest trait – even beyond his enviable brilliance – was a generosity that knew no bounds.”
Kopit is survived by wife Leslie Garis, children Alex, Ben, and Kat, grandchildren Arthur, Beatrix, and Clara; and sister Susan.
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