Michael Friedman
Michael Friedman

Theatrical Composer Michael Friedman Dies of HIV Complications at Age 41

Michael Friedman — a prolific, gay 41-year-old musical composer who worked for numerous productions on and off Broadway — died on Saturday due to an illness related to HIV. Friedman was best known as the co-creator of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a satirical rock musical that, according to the New York Times, had a “critically praised but commercially unsuccessful run on Broadway beginning in 2010.”

In addition to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Friedman was known for creating the musical score for the 2010 production of Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-prize winning two-part play about a gay men in 1985 New York City grappling with AIDS. The play featured actor Zachary Quinto as the gay character Louis Ironson, though Quinto was not yet publicly out during the play’s run.

 

Here is a sample of Frieman’s music from Angels in America:

 

A lifetime of music and American theatre

Friedman was born in Boston, Massachusetts on Sept. 24, 1975. As an infant, he would reportedly stop crying whenever his parents played him music. He began playing the piano at age four, wrote his first song about the tragic mythical flight of Icarus and loved collaborating with others.

The year after he graduated from Harvard, he became the music director for a production of Cymbeline in New York’s summertime Shakespeare in the Park. He later became a founding associate artist of the Civilians, an “investigative theater” troupe that incorporates verbatim dialogue taken from interviews with real-life Americans.

In 2012, he gave a TED Talk about his composition process and how music can create a space for dialogue and transformation.

 

Friedman would’ve wanted people to know about his death due to HIV

According to Friedman’s colleague, musical theatre historian Jennifer Ashley Tepper, Friedman would’ve wanted people to know that he specifically died of an illness related to HIV. In a public Facebook post, she wrote:

Tonight I suddenly started crying when I remembered a conversation I had with Michael this year. He was upset that there were still situations where people would avoid saying that an artist specifically died of HIV/AIDS. We were walking up 8th Avenue and he roared “No one should erase that! People have to know!

At the very final stage of HIV infection, the body’s white blood cell count is too low to fight off various illnesses and infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 6,721 deaths were attributed directly to HIV in 2014.