Born: June 22, 1919
Died: August 25, 1980
Gower Champion, the director of the Carol Channing blockbuster Hello, Dolly!, was a trouper to the end.
The very end.
Though he was gravely ill (and knew it), Tony-winning Champion championed on, relentlessly working as director and choreographer on the 1980 musical 42nd Street. A few days before the show opened on Broadway, Champion was admitted to Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and diagnosed with a rare and terminal form of leukemia.
The play opened as scheduled; immediately after the 10 curtain calls that August 25, producer David Merrick walked out from the wings to make the stunning announcement: “Our beloved director Gower Champion has died.” Champion had died hours before the curtain went up, but Merrick managed to keep the tragedy a secret.
Champion’s life ran 59 years. 42nd Street ran 3,486 performances.
Morbid Curiosity, By Alan W. Petrucelli