James Rado, who jolted Broadway into the Age of Aquarius as a co-creator of “Hair,” the show, billed as an “American tribal love-rock musical,” that transfigured musical theater tradition with radical ’60s iconoclasm and rock ’n’ roll, died on Tuesday evening in Manhattan. He was 90.
The publicist Merle Frimark, a longtime friend, said the cause of his death, in a hospital, was cardio-respiratory arrest.
So much of the power of “Hair” resided in its seeming raw spontaneity, yet Mr. Rado labored over it for years with his collaborator Gerome Ragni to perfect that affect. Contrary to theatrical lore, he and Mr. Ragni were not out-of-work actors who wrote “Hair” to generate roles they could themselves play, but New York stage regulars with growing résumés.
They met as cast members in an Off Broadway revue called “Hang Down Your Head and Die,” a London transfer that closed after one performance in October 1964. Mr. Rado bonded with Mr. Ragni and was soon talking to him about collaborating on a musical that would capture the exuberant, increasingly anti-establishment youth culture rising up all around them in the streets of Lower Manhattan — a musical about hippies before hippies had a name.
A musician before he’d become an actor, Mr. Rado began writing songs with Mr. Ragni, which they sometimes sang in what were then beatnik coffee houses in Greenwich Village.
Moving to an apartment in Hoboken, N.J., where rents were even cheaper than in downtown Manhattan, they borrowed a typewriter from their landlord and went to work writing their musical in earnest, transcribing into song the sexual liberation, racial integration, pharmacological experimentation and opposition to the escalating Vietnam War that was galvanizing their young street archetypes. (They would later enlist Galt MacDermot to write new melodies for their lyrics.) In solidarity, Mr. Rado and Mr. Ragni also began letting their short hair grow long.
A complete obituary will be published shortly.