The Australian born Stigwood’s first major career success came representing John Leyton in 1961, helping to secure the English singer and actor a role on the U.K. TV series Harpers West One. That deal included an arrangement for Leyton’s character to preform a song on the show, which became the top-charting hit “Johnny Remember Me,” produced by experimental pop producer Joe Meek.
The track launched a string of British hit recordings for the team of Leyton, Stigwood and Meek, as well as helping kick off a new era of independent British music production. It also helped for the sort of joint management and recording deals Stigwood carried on through his career.
In 1966, Stigwood became the Who’s booking agent by reportedly paying the band’s managers £500. This deal also empowered him to lure the band away from Brunswick Records to record the now famous single “Substitute” on his own Reaction Records label.
This same year, Stigwood began managing a new band called Cream made up of the best musicians from two groups he had under contract — guitarist Eric Clapton from John Mayall‘s Bluesbreakers, and bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker from the Graham Bond Organisation. Stigwood’s connection to the Who helped him showcase Cream overseas in New York and ultimately break the band in America with striking psychedelic imagery painted on its instruments, commissioned by Dutch art collective The Fool.
In 1967, Stigwood began managing the Australian teenage vocal group the Bee Gees. Though the U.K. release of the band’s first Australian charting topping hit “Spicks and Specks” was a flop, an intensive promotional campaign helped make “New York Mining Disaster 1941” the Bee Gee’s first international hit, with many more following.
By the late ’60s Stigwood’s vision had further expanded across realms of the entertainment industry and he began overseeing theater productions, starting with the West End staging of Hair. Further theatrical hits followed, many coming from or going to Broadway, including Oh! Calcutta!, The Dirtiest Show in Town, Pippin and Sweeney Todd.
Stigwood made the leap into film and TV production by the early ’70s. His first hit was an adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973, followed by the film version of the Who’s Tommy in 1975. Massive success came next with Saturday Night Fever in 1977, which included a two-LP soundtrack written and featuring his client the Bee Gees, and then the beloved rock and roll musical Grease in 1978.
Though several commercial failures followed, he did find success later with the Madonna-starring musical Evita, which won the 1997 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture.
Some of Stigwood’s friends and contemporaries tributes online following his death.
Farewell beloved Robert, the great showman who taught me so much. With love, ALW.
— Andrew Lloyd Webber (@OfficialALW) January 4, 2016
— Sir Tim Rice (@SirTimRice) January 5, 2016