Mark O’Donnell, who won a Tony Award as co-author of the book for the Broadway smash Hairspray, died on Monday at age 58. He collapsed and died suddenly in his Manhattan apartment—a cause of death has yet to be determined.
Working with co-writer Thomas Meehan, O’Donnell’s contributions to Hairspray helped catapult John Waters from the queer edge of pop culture to the heart of the mainstream—and made drag fun again for straight audiences.
In 2008, he also received a Tony nomination for his work on another John Waters adaptation, the musical Cry-Baby, with James Snyder in the title role. O’Donnell’s other works include the novels Getting Over Homer and Let Nothing You Dismay—both about young gay men in search of community—and the plays Tots in Tinseltown and Scapin.
Waters praised O’Donnell in an interview with the New York Times:
Mr. O’Donnell “was an eccentric guy,” Mr. Waters said in a telephone interview. “An old-fashioned wit. He looked like central casting had sent him, just an odd theater person, and I mean that with great respect. He was assured but soft-spoken, which was kind of confusing.”
As proof of his wit, in an article for Esquire in 1980, he coined “O’Donnell’s Laws of Cartoon Motion,” which states that, “Any body suspended in space will remain suspended in space until made aware of its situation.”
O’Donnell is survived by his twin brother, Steve, and eight other siblings: Kathy Roberts, Christine Virga, Fran Pavlik, and Denny, Tony, Maggie, Bill and Maureen O’Donnell.