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Herbert Kretzmer, lyricist of ‘Les Miserables,’ dies at 95

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 15, 2020

Lyricist Herbert Kretzmer and his wife, Sybil Sever, attend  (Associated Press)
Lyricist Herbert Kretzmer and his wife, Sybil Sever, attend (Associated Press)
By Pan Pylas Associated Press

LONDON – Herbert Kretzmer, the journalist and lyricist best known for his English-language adaptation of the musical “Les Miserables,” has died. He was 95.

His family confirmed Wednesday that Kretzmer died after a long illness with Parkinson’s disease at the London home he shared with his second wife, Sybil Sever.

Tributes poured in from giants of the London stage, including theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh, singer Elaine Paige and lyricist Tim Rice.

“Les Miserables” producer Mackintosh said Kretzmer was instrumental in bringing Victor Hugo’s classic tale of defiance and redemption in early 19th century France to the stage in English in October 1985, five years after it had opened in Paris.

“His wonderful words for ‘Les Misérables’ will live on in his memory forever more,” he said in a statement. For Paige, he was a “masterful wordsmith” while Rice described Kretzmer a “great lyricist and man of theatre” and a “giant of his trade.”Kretzmer, known as Herbie to his friends, was born in Kroonstad, a small town south of Johannesburg, South Africa, in October 1925. He was one of four sons of Jewish-Lithuanian immigrants who ran a grocery shop and later a prosperous furniture store.

Though his childhood under the vast expanse of South African sky was “blissful,” he wanted by the age of 11 to become a “newspaper man” – so he could get closer to his heroes on screen.

From Johannesburg, he moved to Paris in 1953, playing the piano by night in a bar in return for a meal. A year later, he moved to London and fulfilled his dream of being at the heart of the movie action, in an award-winning journalistic career that included stints at the Daily Express and Daily Mail.

His catalog of interviews reads like a Who’s Who? of 20th century entertainment, including Muhammad Ali, Judy Garland, Groucho Marx, David Niven and Frank Sinatra.

Some interviewees, including Peter Sellers and Terence Stamp, became close friends.

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