Stephen Sondheim Net Worth at Death – How Did He Get Rich?

Stephen Sondheim Net Worth 

Stephen Sondheim had a net worth of $20 million at the time of his death. American lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim was known for the remarkable range of musicals he wrote and composed, from ‘West Side Story’ to ‘Sweeney Todd’ to ‘Into the Woods.’ He earned most of his income from album sales, concerts, and theatrical works. 

Having practiced songwriting at an early age, Stephen Sondheim’s knowledge of musical theater was influenced by master lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, who served as his mentor. Sondheim’s contributions to West Side Story and Gypsy in the 1950s brought him recognition as a rising star on Broadway. Known for the stunning complexity of his lyricism and music, his major theatrical works also include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park With George, and Into the Woods.

To calculate the net worth of Stephen Sondheim, subtract all his liabilities from his total assets. Investments, savings, cash deposits, and any equity he has in a house, car, or other similar asset are included in the total assets. All debts, such as personal loans and mortgages, are included in total liabilities.

Here’s the breakdown of his net worth:

Name: Stephen Sondheim
Net Worth: $20 Million
Monthly Salary: $100 Thousand
Annual Income: $2 Million
Source of Wealth: Composer, Lyricist, Songwriter, Writer, Screenwriter, Film Score Composer, Actor

Early Life and Musical Interests

Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born in New York City on March 22, 1930. Herbert and Janet (née Fox) Sondheim both worked in the garment industry in New York, his father as a dress manufacturer and his mother as a designer. After their divorce in 1942, Sondheim relocated to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, with his mother. He began studying piano and organ at a young age, and as a student at the George School, he was already writing songs.

Learning from Oscar Hammerstein

In Pennsylvania, Sondheim met the son of Broadway lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, who mentored the young Sondheim and served as a surrogate father during a difficult time.

Sondheim had written a satire about his school, By George!, in his teens, which he thought his mentor would enjoy and thus asked for feedback. In fact, Hammerstein thought the project needed a lot of work and offered candid criticism, which his protégé would later regard as invaluable. Sondheim also assisted on 1947’s Allegro, one of Hammerstein’s theater collaborations with composer Richard Rodgers, an experience that had a long-lasting impact on the young composer’s approach to his work.

Sondheim went to Williams College and majored in music. After graduating in 1950, he continued his studies with avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt and relocated to New York City.

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Theater Beginnings: ‘West Side Story’ and ‘A Funny Thing Happened’

Stephen Sondheim moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s and wrote scripts for the television shows Topper and The Last Word. In 1956, he returned to New York and composed background music for the play The Girls of Summer.

Sondheim met composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins through director Arthur Laurents, who were looking for a lyricist for a contemporary musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Sondheim became a part of one of Broadway’s most successful productions of all time when he wrote the song lyrics for West Side Story, which premiered in 1957.

Sondheim’s next stage project was also high-profile: he collaborated with composer Jule Styne to write the lyrics for Gypsy, which premiered in 1959 and starred Ethel Merman.

Following his musical contributions to 1960’s Invitation to a March, Sondheim went on to write both the lyrics and music for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a farce starring Zero Mostel that was based on comedies by ancient playwright Plautus. It premiered in 1962 and ran for nearly 1,000 performances before winning a Tony Award for best musical.

Broadway Hits: ‘Company’ and ‘Sweeney Todd’

In the 1970s, Sondheim won several more Tony Awards for his collaborations with producer/director Harold Prince, including the musicals Company (1970), a meditation on contemporary marriage and commitment; Follies (1971), an homage to the Ziegfeld Follies and early Broadway; A Little Night Music (1973), a period comedy-drama that included the hit song “Send in the Clowns”; and Sweeney Todd (1979), a gory melodrama set in Victorian London

Sondheim became well-known for his witty, conversational lyrics, seamless blending of words and music, and wide range of source materials. Pacific Overtures (1976) was inspired in part by haiku poetry and Japanese Kabuki theater, while Merrily We Roll Along (1981) was adapted from a 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

More Successes: ‘Sunday in the Park’ and ‘Into the Woods’

Sondheim worked with playwright/director James Lapine on several occasions in the 1980s. Their 1984 film Sunday in the Park with George was inspired by Georges Seurat’s iconic painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” and their 1987 film Into the Woods was a mash-up of plots from classic fairy tales. (The latter was later adapted into a film in 2014 starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, and Anna Kendrick, among others.)

Later Works and Revivals: ‘Passion’ to ‘Follies’

In the 1990s, Sondheim continued to combine various musical genres with sharp lyrical writing and unexpected subject matter, though some of his work during that decade received less critical and popular acclaim. Assassins (1990) told the stories of nine presidential assassins in American history, and Passion (1994), a melodramatic romance based on the Italian film Passione d’Amore, was a collaboration with Lapine.

Sondheim’s work has also been the subject of several revues, including 1976’s Side by Side by Sondheim, 1992’s Putting It Together, and 2010’s Sondheim on Sondheim. Sondheim classics have continued to be revived on Broadway, including the 2009 revivals of West Side Story and A Little Night Music, the latter starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury. Follies was revived in 2011, starring Bernadette Peters.


Sondheim won eight Tony Awards and eight Grammy Awards, a record for a composer. He and Lapine shared the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985 for Sunday in the Park with George, and he won an Academy Award for the song “Sooner or Later,” one of five written for the 1990 film Dick Tracy, starring Warren Beatty and Madonna.

In November 2015, Sondheim was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He was the first composer-lyricist to receive the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award in 2017. The annual award, which goes to a “critically acclaimed writer whose body of work helps us understand and interpret the human condition,” was previously given to novelists Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison.


Sondheim died on November 26, 2021. He was 91.

Further Reading

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