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In Memoriam
 
In Memoriam: Mark O'Donnell (1954-2012)
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/07/12
Last updated on: 08/07/12
 
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Mark O'Donnell with his twin brother Steve.

Writer Mark O'Donnell, best known as co-author of the book of the Marc Shaiman-Scott Wittman musical, Hairspray (2003), which was based on the John Waters 1988 film, died in New York City on August 6, 2012. He collapsed and suffered cardiac arrest in front of his Riverside Drive building on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

A novelist as well as a playwright and librettist, O'Donnell also published humor in magazines such as Esquire, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic.

His novels include Getting Over Homer (1997) and Let Nothing You Dismay (1998), humorous but touching novels set in gay New York. They have sometimes been seen as reminiscent of Armistead Maupin's San Francisco-set Tales of the City. He is also author of a collection of humorous pieces, Vertigo and Other Tall Tales (1993).

O'Donnell, shared the 2003 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical with Thomas Meehan, for their work on Hairspray. The pair also earned Tony nominations in 2008 for their book based on another John Waters film, Cry-Baby, with music by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger.

Among O'Donnell's survivors is his twin brother Steve O'Donnell, also a comedy writer. As DNAinfo.com reports, the twins attended Harvard University, where they worked on the humor magazine, Harvard Lampoon.

In a recent interview in The Believer, the twins contrasted their careers. Steve O'Donnell, who is best known for his work as a writer on The David Letterman Show and The Jimmy Fallon Show, said, "I guess I think we should get to the more sensational aspect of our relationship--the fact that we're twin brothers from a large family of ten brothers and sisters, working-class Cleveland, offspring of a welder and a . . . homemaker, who were themselves the offspring of immigrants. And, that most profound as well as lurid portion of the equation, that you're gay and I'm straight. There's a carnival-act aspect to that, but it opens the doors to more profound questions. Nature versus nurture, environment versus heredity . . .all that stuff."

In a statement issued today, Steve O'Donnell said his brother was an "unusual, brilliant, playful spirit and he's going to be missed very much." In a telephone interview, he added, "I loved him more than any other person on earth. I think he'll be remembered for having a unique, inspired take on things that was both eternally wise and beautifully innocent."

In response to the news of O'Donnell's death, Marc Shaiman said, "Mark was a kind soul, a hysterical mind and the real hero of 'Hairspray.' His passing is shocking, our great loss, but heaven's gain."

In 2008, Steve O'Donnell made a video for the No on Proposition 8 campaign urging Californians to vote against the discriminatory amendment that prohibited same-sex marriage. In the video, he referenced the fact that his twin brother was his best friend and that they should enjoy equal rights.

 
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