If you're not familiar with his name, then you may be familiar with some of his wonderful work, including the much celebrated dance sequences in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I (including the March of the Siamese Children, the ballet The Small House of Uncle Thomas and the "Shall We Dance?" - that lovely polka between the two leads!). Amongst his other work was The Cage, for the New York City Ballet, Peter Pan, Bells are Ringing (with Bob Fosse), and in 1957, he conceived, choreographed, and directed a show often viewed as his crowning achievement: West Side Story. Interestingly, Robbins co-directed the movie adaption of his hit musical in 1961, but he took so long for rehearsals and filming with the cast that he was fired during production! Though Robbins was still credited as the co-director, as he deserved.
Robbins often used his talent to 'save' failing or struggling stage shows, adding in musical numbers or re-arranging parts, and usually his work lead to the shows unlikely success. In '64, he took on a floundering Funny Girl, and devised a show that ran 1348 performances. The musical helped turn lead Barbra Streisand into the superstar she became. That same year Robbins won Tony Awards both for his Direction and choreography of the smash hit Fiddler on the Roof, which ran for a record 3424 shows. Meanwhile, continuing his extensive work with the Joffrey Ballet and New York City Ballet Robbins choreographed numerous pieces for both companies well into the seventies (he became the Ballet Master of NYC Ballet in '72).
Later on, Robbins branched out into TV a little more, until he was tragically injured in a bike accident in 1990 requiring surgery, and not long after began to show signs of Parkinsons disease. However, despite rapidly deteriorating (especially his hearing, which was almost gone), Robbins resolutely refused to abandon his project for the City Ballet, Les Noces, which premiered in 1998. It would be his last project. Robbins was at home a mere two months later when he suffered a massive stroke and died. In tribute, all the lights of Broadway were dimmed for a moment to mark his passing.
Here's a little clip of the opening dance number in West Side Story for you all to enjoy! (for the proper dance sequence, skip to 01:36 ;) )
...Happy Birthday Jerome!