RIP Jerry Herman — 'Mame' And 'Hello, Dolly' Composer Dead At 88

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How Did Jerry Herman Die? New Details On Death Of Broadway Composer At 88
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Jerry Herman, the composer behind some of Broadway's most beloved musicals, has died. He was 88 at the time of his death. Herman composed the music for Mame, Hello, Dolly, and La Cage aux Folles

How did Jerry Herman die?

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Perhaps the most iconic of the many songs Herman wrote is the theme song for Hello, Dolly. The song is one of the most popular to ever have originated in a Broadway musical. It was a number one hit for Louis Armstrong in the U.S. in 1964 and knocked The Beatles out of the number one spot after a 14-week run at the top of the charts.

The theme song from Hello, Dolly was even used in the 2008 animated film Wall-E as the theme song for the character Wall-E as were the Herman songs “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment.” 

Jerry Herman is the only composer-lyricist in history to have had three musicals that ran more than 1,500 performances on Broadway.

Let's take a look at the life, career and death of this Broadway legend. 

1. He was raised in a musical family.

Jerry Herman was born on July 10, 1931, in New York City. His family was Jewish, middle-class, and musically-inclined. Herman attended Broadway musicals with his parents frequently growing up. When his parents took him to a production of Annie Get Your Gun in the late 1940s with Ethel Merman in the lead role, Herman loved it so much he devoted himself to playing the piano and composing. 

During the summers, Herman's parents worked in hotels in the Catskill Mountains where his mom was a singer and pianist. Herman's parents eventually went on to run Stissing Lake Camp in the Taconic Mountains. Herman spent his summers from age six to 23 there. It was where he first got involved in stage productions as director of Oklahoma!, Finian's Rainbow and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Herman attended the University of Miami. While an undergraduate he wrote a musical called Sketchbook. It was set to run for three performances but was so popular it ran for 20. 

2. He started his career off-Broadway.

After Herman graduated from college he moved back to Manhattan and produced the off-Broadway play I Feel Wonderful. The review was made up of songs he had composed in college. It opened on October 18, 1954, and ran for 48 performances.

In 1957, he produced a one house musical called Nightcap featuring Charles Nelson Reilly (who later co-starred in Hello, Dolly). The play opened in May 1958 and ran for two years.

3. Hello, Dolly opened on Broadway in 1964.

Hello, Dolly opened in 1964. It starred Carol Channing and ran for 2,844 performances. It was Broadway's longest-running musical at the time. The musical swept the 1964 Tony Awards. It was nominated for 11 and won 10. Hello, Dolly has been revived many times. It was made into a feature film starring Barbra Streisand in 1969.

Most recently, Bette Midler played the widow Dolly Levi, a socialite and matchmaker getting back to her business after the death of her husband. Midler's production ran in 2017. Hello, Dolly is Herman's most successful production. 

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4. Mame opened on Broadway in 1966.

In the mid-60s, Broadway was absolutely dominated by Herman. His next musical Mame starred Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur. It ran for more than 1,500 performances. 

Mame's title character Mame Dennis is an eccentric and bohemian woman navigating life with her arty and intellectual group of friends. Her life is disrupted when her brother dies and her 10-year-old nephew comes to live with her. "Auntie" Mame introduces the boy to her lifestyle, teaching him: "Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death."

Mame introduced the world to the Herman song, "We Need a Little Christmas." Mame was nominated for eight Tony Awards in 1966 and won three: Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Angela Lansbury, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Frankie Michaels and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for Bea Arthur. In 1975, Mame was made into a feature film starring Lucille Ball.

5. His next hit was La Cage Aux Folles.

In 1983, Herman had another hit on his hands with La Cage aux Folles, a musical adaptation of the French farce film by the same name about two gay men who own a splashy, drag nightclub on the Riviera. Herman's production featured the gay anthem "I Am What I Am." The musical ran for 1,760 performances. 

La Cage aux Folles was one of the first Broadway productions to feature characters that were openly gay men. La Cage aux Folles won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1983 and later became the only musical to win the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice in 2005 and 2010, making it the only show to win a Best Musical award for every staged Broadway production.

6. He was honored by the Kennedy Center.

Herman was honored by the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. Carol Channing said of him, "When they passed out talent, Jerry stood in line twice." The Kennedy Center said the theater world knew a good thing when it heard and saw it: Tonys, Drama Desk Awards, Theatre World Awards all followed, as did a 2009 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement and a 2010 Drama Desk Special Award for "enchanting and dazzling audiences with his exuberant music and heartfelt lyrics for more than half a century. Right now in the 21st Century, we can be sure that someone, somewhere is singing a Jerry Herman song. That's one happy way we know the man's been right all along: the best of times is now."

7. How did Jerry Herman die?

Herman died Thursday, December 26, in Miami. He was hospitalized at the time of his death. No cause of death has been revealed.

In the late 1980s, Herman was diagnosed with HIV. He lost his longtime partner Martin Finkelstein to AIDS. Herman was treated with medications that kept his HIV at bay. Herman is survived by his partner, Terry Marler.

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Amy Lamare is a writer covering entertainment, pop culture, beauty, fashion, fitness, technology, and the intersection of technology, business, and philanthropy. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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