William H. “Billy” May, world-renowned entertainment producer, director and composer, died on New Year’s Eve at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. May’s death follows a recent illness.
May’s talents and creations crossed many frontiers—from writing, composing, conceiving, designing, architecture and special events, to theatre and arena events. His reputation as an artistic director was colored by a driving passion to give children and families the experience of wonderment, and to ignite their imagination to dream. His motto was: “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”
He created Melbourne’s iconic special events centre in an 1890s warehouse in Kensington, which became one of Melbourne’s top special events venues. It was known as No12.
In the past 30 years, he and partner Malcolm Cooke produced more than 40 theatrical productions, from New York’s Broadway to London’s famed West End. These acclaimed stage shows included the musical Always, the love story of King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, for which May co-wrote the book, music and lyrics; Boswell for the Defence, which starred the late Leo McKern as James Boswell; The Hobbit; and The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe.
His latest award-winning creation, “Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience,” is a ground-breaking arena show that transports audiences back 65 million years to literally walk with15 realistic dinosaurs, from Brachiosaurus to a life-size T-Rex. This production is one of the largest and most acclaimed shows to come out of Australia, and is currently touring two productions in North America and Europe.
May came from a large family of four brothers, two sisters, and at various times, 10 foster children. By the age of 12 May was awarded scholarships to the prestigious Carnegie Hall for dance, and to the New York High School of Performing Arts (aka FAME).
As a teen, May honed his abilities as a performer, composer and writer, touring with such acts as Sonny and Cher and the Osmond Brothers.
By age 19, he’d ventured to Australia, where he became partnered with producer Malcolm Cooke to discover and manage Australian singer Samantha Sang. May enlisted the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb to write and produce a song for Sang, resulting in the 1977 multi-platinum international hit, “Emotion.”
At age 24, May returned to New York, becoming the youngest producer on the Great White Way with his Broadway musical debut Marilyn – An American Fable, the life story of Marilyn Monroe.
May was also devoted to several philanthropic endeavors involving children, including being an ambassador for Australia’s TLC for Kids, The Lighthouse Foundation and The Royal Children’s Hospital, as well as Think Pink, which supports women living with breast cancer.
William H. May is survived by long time life and business partner Malcolm Cooke.
The funeral service will be held on Tuesday 12 January at 10.30am at Saint Patricks Cathedral, cnr Gisborne St and Cathedral Place, East Melbourne.
William has requested no flowers be sent. He would prefer that people make a donation to the Royal Children’s Hospital — www.rch.org.au