Lucy Simon, the composer and sister of pop superstar Carly Simon who received a Tony nomination in 1991 for her work on the long-running Broadway musical The Secret Garden, has died. She was 82.
Simon died Thursday at her home in Piedmont, New York, after a long battle with breast cancer, a family spokesperson announced.
She and Carly began their careers in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as The Simon Sisters and their folk act opened for the likes of The Tarriers in Greenwich Village nightclubs. Their “Wynken, Blynken & Nod” recording reached No. 73 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964.
Lucy Simon became the rare female composer to have a show on Broadway when The Secret Garden debuted in April 1991. Starring Rebecca Luker, Mandy Patinkin, Alison Fraser and Daisy Eagan and based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel, the musical ran for 709 performances on Broadway, won two Tonys and has been performed all over the world.
Her next musical, Doctor Zhivago, debuted in Australia after almost 20 years of gestation and landed on Broadway in March 2015. She said her inspiration for that came from the poems Boris Pasternak wrote as Zhivago at the end of his epic 1957 novel.
“Those poems were my way into the music, my inspiration to tell the story in song,” she said.
Simon was born in New York on May 5, 1940. Her father was publishing giant Richard Simon, and her mother, Andrea, was a one-time switchboard operator at Simon & Schuster.
She was the second oldest of four children: she followed Joanna and preceded Carly and Peter. They all grew up in a musical household where her parents entertained such luminaries as James Thurber, Richard Rodgers, Benny Goodman and Oscar Hammerstein.
A school assignment to memorize and recite a poem prompted Simon, then 14 and dyslexic, to write music for the Eugene Field poem “Wynken, Blynken & Nod.” It was the only way she could remember it.
While Carly would find huge success with such hits as “Anticipation,” “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” and “You’re So Vain,” Lucy went to nursing school and married psychiatrist David Levine in 1967. However, she returned to record two solo albums for RCA, 1975’s Lucy Simon and 1977’s Stolen Time (Carly and James Taylor provided backing vocals on the latter).
She and her husband then produced a pair of Grammy-winning children’s albums, 1981’s In Harmony and 1983’s In Harmony 2.
Simon acquired the rights to turn the classic children’s book Little House on the Prairie into a musical and worked with lyricist Susan Birkenhead on it, but the project never went forward.
Playwright Marsha Norman wrote the book and lyrics for The Secret Garden, and producer Heidi Landesman hired Simon as their composer after hearing a demo melody she had written for “I Heard Someone Crying.”
The Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles will present a new production of The Secret Garden, directed by Warren Carlyle, at the Ahmanson Theatre from Feb. 19-March 26. A concert version of Doctor Zhivago starring Ramin Karimloo is set for May 9 at The Palladium in London.
Simon also wrote and produced the songs and soundtrack for the 1993 HBO telefilm The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader Murdering Mom, starring Holly Hunter.
In 2018, she received the Samuel French Award for Sustained Excellence in American Theater.
Simon had been working with Birkenhead and Emily Mann on the musical On Cedar Street, based on the 2015 book Our Souls at Night and with Victoria Clark directing. Lucy Simon’s battle with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer forced a bow out of the project, but some of her music will live on.
In addition to her sister and husband, survivors include her children, Julie (and her former husband, Christopher), James (and his wife, Alanna), and grandchildren Sophie, Ben, Charlie and Evie.
“I believe life and art continue,” she once said. “The melody always takes me home. It leads me to where I want to go. It’s my religion as if the ancient gods were speaking to me.”