Lucy Simon, Tony-Nominated Composer and Sister of Carly Simon, Dies at 82

Lucy Simon, Tony-Nominated Composer and Sister of Carly Simon, Dies at 82
Lucy Simon, Tony-Nominated Composer and Sister of Carly Simon, Dies at 82

Lucy Simon, the composer, and sister of pop superstar Carly Simon, has died. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1991 for her work on the long-running Broadway musical The Secret Garden. She was 82 years old.

Simon died Thursday at her Piedmont, New York, home after a long battle with breast cancer, according to a family spokesperson.

Another sister, opera and concert singer Joanna Simon, died of thyroid cancer a day earlier in a Manhattan hospital, according to The New York Times. She was 85 years old.

Lucy and Carly began their careers as The Simon Sisters in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and their folk act opened for The Tarriers in Greenwich Village nightclubs. In 1964, their recording of “Wynken, Blynken & Nod” peaked at No. 73 on the Billboard Hot 100.

When The Secret Garden premiered on Broadway in April 1991, Lucy Simon became the first female composer to do so.

The musical, based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel and starring Rebecca Luker, Mandy Patinkin, Alison Fraser, and Daisy Eagan, ran for 709 performances on Broadway, won two Tony Awards, and has been performed all over the world.

Doctor Zhivago, her next musical, premiered in Australia after nearly 20 years in development and opened on Broadway in March 2015. She said she was inspired by the poems Boris Pasternak wrote as Zhivago at the end of his epic 1957 novel.

“Those poems were my entry point into music, my inspiration to tell the story through song,” she explained.

Simon was born on May 5, 1940, in New York. Her father was publishing mogul Richard Simon, and her mother, Andrea, was a former Simon & Schuster switchboard operator.

She was the second oldest of four children, coming after Joanna but before Carly and Peter. Her parents entertained luminaries such as James Thurber, Richard Rodgers, Benny Goodman, and Oscar Hammerstein while she was growing up.

Simon, then 14 and dyslexic, was inspired to write music for Eugene Field’s poem “Wynken, Blynken & Nod” after being assigned to memorize and recite it in school. That was the only way she remembered it.

While Carly rose to fame with hits like “Anticipation,” “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” and “You’re So Vain,” Lucy attended nursing school and married psychiatrist David Levine in 1967.

She did, however, return to record two solo albums for RCA, Lucy Simon in 1975 and Stolen Time in 1977. (Joanna sang backup on the first LP and Carly and James Taylor provided vocals on the second).

She and her husband went on to produce two Grammy-winning children’s albums, In Harmony in 1981 and In Harmony 2 in 1983.

Simon acquired the rights to adapt the classic children’s book Little House on the Prairie into a musical and collaborated with lyricist Susan Birkenhead on the project, but it never materialized.

The Secret Garden’s book and lyrics were written by Marsha Norman, and producer Heidi Landesman hired Simon after hearing a demo melody she had written for “I Heard Someone Crying.”

From February 19 to March 26, the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles will present a new production of The Secret Garden, directed by Warren Carlyle, at the Ahmanson Theatre. The Palladium in London will host a concert version of Doctor Zhivago starring Ramin Karimloo on May 9.

Simon also wrote and produced the songs and soundtrack for Holly Hunter’s 1993 HBO film The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader Murdering Mom. She was awarded the Samuel French Award for Sustained Excellence in American Theater in 2018.

Simon had been collaborating with Birkenhead and Emily Mann on the musical On Cedar Street, which was based on the 2015 book Our Souls at Night and directed by Victoria Clark.

Her battle with metastatic stage 4 breast cancer forced her to withdraw from the project, but some of her music will live on.

Her children, Julie (and her former husband, Christopher) and James (and his wife, Alanna), as well as grandchildren Sophie, Ben, Charlie, and Evie, survive her sister and husband. Photojournalist Peter Simon died in 2018 at the age of 71.

“I believe life and art will continue,” she once said. “The melody always transports me home.” It takes me where I want to go. It’s my religion as if the ancient gods are communicating with me.”

Daisy Bharali is a freelance writer and editor specializing in culture, politics, women's health, and the intersection of these topics, with print and digital work published in Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, Airbnb Mag, and other publications. She is a BSc. Hons. Geology student at Hansraj College, Delhi University, so she is constantly daydreaming about Cookies.