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Lionel Bart was born Lionel Begleiter on August 1, 1930. Bart's parents and six older siblings were survivors of the Holocaust out of Austria and resided in the East End of London. When Lionel Bart was six, a teacher told his parents that he was a musical genius. At 16, he received a scholarship to St. Martins School of the Arts but found himself expelled for behavior and he gave up his ambition to be a painter. However, he took jobs in silk-screen printing works and commercial art studios before doing a stint with National Service in the Royal Air Force. Later he began earning a living as a graphic designer and as a scene painter in the theatre. His work led to acquaintance with the actors and singers for whom he began to write songs. Bart moved on to work writing lyrics and comedy for a number of groups. One of the most popular was Tommy Steele, of whose backing group, The Cavemen, Bart became virtually an honorary member. In 1958 he finally staged his first musical, Wally Pone (a Cockney version of Jonson's Volpone). Bernard Miles at the Mermaid took notice of Bart at this time and commissioned him to write the lyrics to Laurie Johnson's music for Lock Up Your Daughters! On June 30, 1960 his signature work, Oliver!, opened at the New Theater in London. The musical was an immediate success. A New York version of the play opened on January 6, 1963, and was a Broadway hit, earning Bart a Tony Award. The long-running play had two successful revivals in 1967 and 1977. By the end of the 1960's Bart's dependence on drugs and alcohol began to rule his life and diabetes took hold of his health. Lionel Bart succumbed to a long bout with cancer and died on April 3, 1999.
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