BOSTON -- David Mugar, the businessman and philanthropist who transformed the Boston Pops July Fourth concert and fireworks show from a small local event into a nationally televised extravaganza, has died according to his family.
He died Tuesday night, his three children said in a statement. He was 82. No cause of death was provided.
“He was a Bostonian through and through, continually finding ways to give back to the community he loved," the family said. “He was humble and generous. Quietly doing good for others and always leading with his heart. The many gifts he gave to civic and cultural organizations across the city and the state were most often given in recognition and honor of his parents, our grandparents."
Although Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler had organized the city's free July Fourth concert since 1929, its popularity and crowds had dwindled by the mid-1970s.
Mugar, inspired to produce large-scale events by actor Charlton Heston's character in the 1952 Academy Award-winning movie “The Greatest Show on Earth,” suggested to his longtime friend Fiedler that the show add cannon fire, church bells, fireworks over the Charles River, and a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”
The music choice was controversial at first, as some thought it inappropriate to play a piece by a Russian composer at the height of the Cold War, but the show's popularity soared and today it draws about 500,000 people, many of whom line up for hours, blankets at the ready, to get a prime space on the lawn. The “1812 Overture" remains a staple.
Mugar, who also for years financed the event, struck a deal with CBS Television in 2003 to share the celebration with audiences across the country and the world and became executive producer of the “Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular,” a position he held until 2015.
“His single-minded devotion to our iconic Fourth of July celebration was inspiring, and no one was more responsible for the creation and the preservation of the event than David," current Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart said in a statement.
The holiday concert was not the only huge event he organized. Mugar was also one of the founders of Boston’s First Night in 1976, and in 1979, was one of three people appointed by then-Mayor Kevin White to oversee the visit of Pope John Paul II to the city, which drew 400,000 people to a Mass on Boston Common.
His generosity also extended to area universities, hospitals and cultural organizations.
David G. Mugar was born in Cambridge, the son of Stephen Mugar, founder of the Star Market supermarket chain, and raised in Watertown and Belmont.
He attended the Belmont Hill School and the Cambridge School of Weston, but dropped out of college. It didn't thwart his business career, and as president and CEO of Mugar Enterprises Inc., he owned or co-owned shopping centers, hotels, live music venues and WHDH-TV in Boston for a period.
In addition to his three children, Jennifer, Peter and Jonathan, he is survived by five grandchildren, his sister Carolyn Mugar, and longtime companion Carolynn Cartelli. He was twice divorced.
“Our Dad used the opportunity he was given to think imaginatively, act honestly, and make a difference to those most in need. That is a legacy we will work hard to preserve," the family said.
Funeral and memorial plans are pending.