Jim Steinman, Writer Of Operatic Rock Hits For Meat Loaf And Celine Dion, Dies At 73

Apr 20, 2021
Originally published on April 22, 2021 12:00 am

Jim Steinman, co-creator of power ballads and orchestral-style rock by such artists as Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler, has died. Steinman was a composer, lyricist and record producer whose work with Meat Loaf on the 1977 album Bat Out of Hell catapulted the motorcycle-loving singer to stardom. The Connecticut State Medical Examiner's office confirmed Steinman's death to NPR. He was 73. Steinman's brother told the Associated Press he died of kidney failure.

Steinman fully embraced the epic, operatic-style rock of the 1970s, and once stated, "If you don't go over the top, you can't see what's on the other side." A bio on his website calls him "The Lord of Excess," and notes that the L.A. Times once referred to him as "the Richard Wagner of rock." In addition to Bat Out of Hell and further projects with Meat Loaf, Steinman's credits include Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," Air Supply's "Making Love Out of Nothing At All" and Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back To Me Now."

Steinman wrote his first musical while a student at Amherst. His professional career began at the Public Theater in New York. That's where he met Meat Loaf when the singer auditioned for a part in the composer's first musical, More Than You Deserve.

The Steinman/Meat Loaf partnership was explosive, musically and commercially. Bat Out of Hell, once described as "like Springsteen on Broadway on steroids," became one of the best-selling albums of all time. In addition to producing, Steinman wrote a number of songs on the album, including the classic play-by-play "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."

But success was not a sure thing. Initially, record labels weren't interested. According to The Telegraph, Steinman once said, "If there was a market out there for 10-minute Wagnerian explosive anthems sung by a 350-pound guy with a huge voice, then we had that market cornered."

Songs by Steinman were used in such films as Footloose and Shrek 2. He collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the musical stage version of Whistle Down the Wind. In 2017, his "dream project," Bat Out of Hell: The Musical, opened at Manchester's Opera House, and later made its U.S. debut at New York City Center.

Steinman's many fans include Lost producer Javier "Javi" Grillo-Marxuach, who aptly captures the epic nature of the songwriter's vision: "every song a three act play. every emotion a grand opera. doesn't matter if it's celine dion, meat loaf, or the sisters of mercy on the mic: a jim steinman song is always its own magnificent beast. rest in peace to the maximalist supreme."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Rock 'n' roll lost one of its most theatrical songwriters this week. Jim Steinman was a composer, lyricist and producer who worked with Meat Loaf, Celine Dion and Bonnie Tyler.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART")

BONNIE TYLER: (Singing) But now there's only love in the dark. Nothing I can say, a total eclipse of the heart.

SHAPIRO: Steinman died Monday of kidney failure. He was 73. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Jim Steinman once said, if you don't go over the top, you can't see what's on the other side. When he met the larger-than-life Meat Loaf, he said he found the singer who could sing his music the way he envisioned it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) And I never had a girl looking any better than you did. And all the kids at school, they were wishing they were me that night. And now our bodies are, oh, so close and tight. It never felt so good. It never felt so right.

BLAIR: Meat Loaf and Steinman's 1977 "Bat Out Of Hell" became one of the bestselling albums of all time. It was also audacious. The song "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" is an 8 1/2 minute three-act drama, including a play-by-play by New York Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT")

PHIL RIZZUTO: He's not letting up at all. He's going to try for second. The ball is bobbled out in center, and here comes the throw. And what a throw.

BLAIR: Steinman grew up on Long Island. He wrote his first over-the-top musical in college at Amherst. "Dream Engine" was three hours long and performed largely in the nude. It also launched his career. Renowned New York theater producer Joseph Papp came to see it and signed a deal with Steinman during intermission. Jay Scheib, who directed "Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical," says Steinman liked working outside the rules.

JAY SCHEIB: He was really interested in pushing whatever form of artistic expression he could find, to the point where it would sort of explode.

BLAIR: Jim Steinman also loved great classic stories. His favorite was "Peter Pan." Jay Scheib says, in many ways, Steinman was himself one of the Lost Boys. Steinman said as much in a speech he gave at Amherst in 2013.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM STEINMAN: I was nobody, really. I really wasn't anybody. I say that not glibly. I didn't know who I was.

BLAIR: Steinman said all that changed in 1968, when he wrote an article for the school newspaper. It was an article about rock 'n' roll, politics, doing drugs, philosophy. His writing was full of drama, foreshadowing the music he would go on to create for audiences around the world.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) So I can end my time with you. It was long ago, and it was far away. And it was so much better that it is today. Well, it was long ago, and it was far away. And it was so much better that it is today. It was long ago, and it was far away. And it was so much better than it is today. And it was long ago, and it was far away. And it was so much better than it is today. It was long ago, and it was far away. And it was so much better than it is today. It was long ago, and it was far away. And it was so much better... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.