Actor, novelist and playwright James Kirkwood, who won a Pulitzer Prize for writing "A Chorus Line," the longest-running musical in Broadway history, died Friday at his Manhattan apartment.
Friends gave his age as 58, although Kirwood had admitted to being born in 1924. "As an actor, I got in the habit of lying about my age," he once explained.Kirkwood, whose main residence was in Key West, Fla., died of cancer after being hospitalized recently in New York City, said Nicholas Dante, who co-authored "A Chorus Line," a tale based largely on real Broadway dancers' recollections of their professional agonies and successes.
"He will really be missed. He had a great life force and a great curiosity about everything," Dante said. "I really am completely shocked because it was so very quick. He had just gotten out of the hospital."
Dante recalled writing "A Chorus Line" with Kirkwood in the mid-1970s, saying it was "one of the happiest times" in his life.
"A lot of sweat and work went into writing it, but we had a really wonderful time," he said. "It was the best time in my life, and I know it was the best time in Jimmy's life too."
The musical, which garnered both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1976, became the longest-running show in Broadway history with its 3,389th performance. It is still running.
Kirkwood was born in Hollywood, the son of actor James Kirkwood Sr. and silent picture star Lila Lee, who co-starred with Rudolph Valentino in several early films.
By the age of 17, he had attended 18 schools, including a one-room schoolhouse in Friant, Calif., a Catholic military academy, Beverly Hills High School and a New Hampshire prep school later depicted in his novel "Good Times/Bad Times."
While a teenager, Kirkwood followed his parents into show business.
He performed on Broadway in "Welcome Darlings," "Panama Hattie," and "Wonderful Town," and had roles in the films "Mommie Dearest" and "Oh God, Book II." He also worked the night club circuit in a comedy team with Lee Goodman.
Actress Tallulah Bankhead, who appeared with Kirkwood in "Welcome Darlings" and was entranced by his story telling, urged the actor to try his hand at writing.
Kirkwood authored the best-selling novel, "P.S. Your Cat is Dead!" and also wrote "Hit Me with a Rainbow," "There Must Be a Pony," and "American Grotesque," about a conspiracy in the aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination.
Just before his death, Kirkwood wrote a non-fiction book, "Diary of a Mad Playwright," about his dealings with actress Mary Martin and Carole Channing in a play called "Legends."
Known for his bleak wit, Kirkwood once remarked, "Life has got to be one huge joke. To my knowledge, nobody has ever come up with a logical explanation that fits any other alternative. But as long as we've been placed on the joke-board, there's nothing to do but play along with as much humor as possible."