Life Was a Cabaret to Bob Fosse—Dancer, Director and One of a Kind

updated 10/12/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/12/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It's showtime!" With those words the director-choreographer lead character of Bob Fosse's 1979 semiautobiographical film, All That Jazz, greeted himself in the mirror every morning. The phrase was uttered sardonically, with a hammy theatricality, but it was clearly a homage to an obsession. And of all the traits the cynical, womanizing, workaholic character shared with his creator, none was more obvious than the passion to create.

So there was a sad kind of poetry to Fosse's death two weeks ago, at 60, on the way to still another showtime—the Washington, D.C., opening of his revival of Sweet Charity. A Chicagoan whose father was once a vaudeville singer, Fosse had danced his way from Broadway to Hollywood to a dazzling career as a choreographer and director, yet he never forgot his vaudeville beginnings, referring to himself as simply an entertainer. Others knew better. He won nine Tonys (for such shows as The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, Dancin' and Pippin), an Emmy (for Liza With a "Z") and an Oscar (for Cabaret). His sexy, angular, combustion-packed choreography revolutionized modern dance, and he was an original offstage too. He played down his intelligence, dressed in black, continued to smoke even after his 1974 open heart surgery and unabashedly worshipped women. "All I need is a rehearsal studio and bedroom—preferably attached," he once said.

Despite his well-publicized affairs, he said he had never stopped loving his third and last wife, dancer Gwen Verdon, who was assistant choreographer of the new Sweet Charity and was with him when he died.

Those who worked with Fosse never stopped loving him, either. "He's irreplaceable," said Star 80 Iead Mariel Hemingway. Said Ben Vereen, who starred in Pippin: "He was obsessed with life and living; I'm still in disbelief." There were many such tributes to Fosse, none more fitting than this from Roy Scheider, who played the director in All That Jazz: "He just wanted to provide the audience with as good a time as he possibly could. That's all he ever asked of himself."

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