Adam Schlesinger, the songwriter and bassist known best as a member of Fountains of Wayne and Ivy, and for his Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated work in TV and film, died from coronavirus complications on Wednesday morning (April 1), Billboard has confirmed. He was 52 years old.
The star had been receiving medical care for a week after testing positive for COVID-19, and his condition was most recently said to be “improving.”
Schlesinger grew up in New York and in the Montclair township of New Jersey, before attending Williams College in Massachusetts. There he met the British-born, Pennsylvania-raised Chris Collingwood, with whom he founded Fountains of Wayne (named after a New Jersey lawn ornament store) in the mid-’90s. The group released two albums of smart, catchy power pop before the millennium — 1996’s self-titled and 1999’s Utopia Parkway — drawing critical raves, a cult fanbase, and a couple minor alt-rock hits in “Radiation Vibe” and “Denise.”
It was the band’s third album, 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers, that brought the band unexpected crossover success, thanks to the smash hit “Stacy’s Mom.” With a Cars-like new wave sheen, a singalong chorus about a teenage infatuation with a classmate’s mother, and a Fast Times at Ridgemont High-tributing music video starring Rachel Hunter, the song made it to No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, and received a nod for best pop performance by duo or group with vocal at the 2004 Grammys — where, ironically, the band was also nominated for best new artist, despite being nearly a decade into their career.
“I met him when I was at Mercury Records and we did a label deal for his incredibly eclectic indie, Scratchie Records. But then I was blessed to have him on S-Curve, where Fountains of Wayne released ‘Stacy’s Mom.’ What a perfect pop record that was,” says S-Curve Records president Steve Greenberg. “Adam had a killer instinct for writing great, hooky pop songs and he could apply that talent to any situation where such songs were needed: Not just on records, but also Broadway, TV and film. ‘That Thing You Do’ is so perfect a representation of mid-’60s garage rock that you have to remind yourself that it was actually written in the ’90s. With that song and the music from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, he left his mark on the culture as much as he did in his public role in Fountains of Wayne. His passing is a devastating loss. I will miss him personally and the whole world will miss getting more of the wonderful music he created.”
Fountains of Wayne released two more albums after that (2007’s Traffic and Weather and 2011’s Sky Full of Holes) and maintained a sizeable fanbase, but never scored another pop hit. In the meantime, Schlesinger also performed in side outfits Ivy and Tinted Windows — the latter a supergroup also featuring Taylor Hanson of Hanson, James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins and Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick — and collaborated heavily with synth-pop duo Fever High on their late ’10s output.
However, outside of Fountains of Wayne, Schlesinger is likely best known as one of the past quarter-century’s most accomplished writers of original songs for film, television and theater. He received an Oscar nomination for “That Thing You Do!,” the irresistible faux-British Invasion theme to the ’60s-set comedy of the same name, which was named by SPIN in 2015 as the greatest fictional song of all time. He also composed original songs for music-themed films Josie and the Pussycats (2000) and Music and Lyrics (2007), and for the musical adaptation of the John Waters film Cry-Baby, for which he and songwriting partner David Javerbaum received Tony nominations.
Schlesinger was also renowned for his work on the CW musical comedy Crazy Ex Girlfriend, for which he was executive music producer and wrote several songs. He won an Emmy in 2019 for his work on the series, taking home outstanding music and lyrics along with Rachel Bloom and Jack Dolgen for the show’s wry musical number “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal.” Most recently, Schlesinger was involved in the upcoming musical production The Bedwetter, written with comedian Sarah Silverman and based on her book of the same name, which was scheduled to open for previews this May.
Following news of Schlesinger’s death, indie rocker Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz took to Twitter to pay tribute to one of her idols. “A few years ago i noticed adam schlesinger followed me, i did the uncool move of DMing to say i’d been a fan since i was a kid – from that thing you do, josie soundtrack, fountains of wayne, more,” she wrote. “He messaged back, couldn’t have been more encouraging + kind. RIP to a songs hero.”
UPDATE: Atlantic Records Group chairman/CEO Craig Kallman issued a statement Thursday (April 2) about Schlesinger’s death. “It is with great sadness that we learned yesterday of the passing of Adam Schlesinger, a key figure in Atlantic’s move into the indie pop and alt-rock scene of the ‘90s,” the statement begins. “Adam was simultaneously a member of two Atlantic groups, Ivy and Fountains of Wayne. We released two Ivy albums: 1995’s Realistic and 1997’s Apartment Life, which Billboard called one of that year’s 10 best. At the same time, Adam co-founded Fountains of Wayne, who recorded two albums for us, their 1996 self-titled debut and 1999’s Utopia Parkway, both of which earned acclaim for their humor, intelligence, and modern take on classic power pop. Hailed as “a master of the cleverly catchy,” Adam went on to a remarkably diverse career as an artist, songwriter, and producer, earning three Emmy Awards, a Grammy, and an ASCAP Pop Music Award. We are proud to have been part of his brilliant career, and we extend our deepest condolences to his family, his many friends and collaborators, and his devoted fans around the world.”