The entertainment world was shocked to learn that prolific gay producer Craig Zadan died Monday night, Aug. 20, at his home in the Hollywood Hills of complications from shoulder replacement surgery. He was 69.
Zadan and Meron productions have earned six Oscars, 17 Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, two Peabody honors, and a Grammy, Variety reported. The team’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” for NBC on Easter Sunday is nominated for 13 Emmy Awards, as is their Lifetime TV movie “Flint,” produced with and starring Queen Latifah, about the water contamination crisis in Flint, Mich.
I met Craig and Neil in 1995 to talk about their NBC movie “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story,” about a respected Washington National Guard Colonel who was forced out under the gay military ban. The film was co-produced by Barbra Streisand and the film’s star, Glenn Close, and co-starred Judy Davis.
They were genuinely attentive, ebullient and passionate. Craig’s broad smile buoyed his description of their mission: 1. bring back musicals; 2. elevate biopics; 3. unapologetically infuse diversity into all their endeavors.
And they did, with soul. In 1997, they produced Disney’s “Cinderella” for ABC with singer/“Moesha” actress Brandy as Cinderella, co-producer Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, Bernadette Peters as the evil stepmother; Filipino actor Paolo Montalban as The Prince, Whoopi Goldberg as his mother and Victor Garber as his father. It was groundbreaking.
“Seeing a princess with box braids like mine and a fairy godmother like Whitney, who could have been my own mother or any one of my aunties, gave me and girls who looked like me a glimpse at an early age of why it is necessary to demand representation of all types of people playing all times of roles in films,” Martha Tesema recalled on Mashable in 2017.
Craig and I stayed in touch periodically via email, important during controversies such as when CBS refused to air “The Reagans” in 2003. A leak revealed a scene with President Ronald Reagan (James Brolin) turning to wife Nancy (Judy Davis)—who suggested helping people with AIDS—and replies: “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” There’s no evidence Reagan actually said that—but he might have. The TV biopic aired on Showtime.
“By being out and proud, Craig Zadan helped blaze a path for so many others in Hollywood to follow,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “He was a truly visionary leader who spoke to our hearts and souls through his prolific and profound work…[O]ur hearts go out to all who loved Craig, especially his life partner, Elwood Hopkins, and his producing partner, Neil Meron.”
“We met when Craig was doing Cinderella in the nineties and geeked out over all things musical,” friend Brad Bessey, former executive producer for Entertainment Tonight, told the Los Angeles Blade.
“Craig’s gift was that it was never about him, it was always about honoring the material, the music, the artists, the legacy, and the audience. Being the ultimate fan made him the ultimate creator.”