Who Was Howard Ashman's Husband, Bill Lauch?

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Who Was Howard Ashman's Husband, Bill Lauch?
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This week, Disney will be premiering a new documentary about one of their own legendary creative team: Howard plays living tribute to Howard Ashman, the lyricist who brought The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, and Aladdin to life. He passed away just before winning the Oscar for Best Song for the title track to Beauty and the Beast. His partner Bill Lauch was the one to accept the award in his absence.

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Lauch is an architect who was Ashman's partner from 1984 until his death in 1991. Lauch got an inside view of the creative process of one of the best omposing teams in movie history and he also nursed Ashman through his struggle with AIDS. Today, he gets a role in telling his partner's story, nearly 20 years after his death. 

Who was Howard Ashman's husband, Bill Lauch?

Lauch participated in the new documentary Howard about Howard Ashman.

Howard, adocumentary tribute to Ashman with a score written by his musical partner Alan Menken, first premiered a couple of years ago at film festivals and it's finally making its way to Disney+. Lauch's memories of Ahsmna form part of the core of the movie.

Ashman and his composing partner Alan Menken.

Howard Ashman and BillLauch met in New York City.

Ashman was already a success in the world of musical theatre when he met the man he would spend the rest of his life with. He had written the lyrics for the surprise hit Little Shop of Horrors. But penning the lyrics to a successful musical doesn't make a person a household name, which is why Lauch had to ask if he had written anything he might have heard of when they first met at Boy Bar in Greenwich Village in 1984. Ashman told him about Little Shop and Lauch not only knew the show, he had seen the original cast perform it on Broadway.  

Lauch had moved to New York for his own career.

Lauch recalls that he had moved to New York City to pursue his dream of being an architect. He had come from Columbus, Ohio before that. By the time he met Ashman, he had worked with several different firms around the city. 

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Ashman and Lauch loved New York but they were ready to leave.

Lauch and Ashman became serious quickly after they met. "He courted me," Lauch recalled. "He came on strong. He was ready for someone to settle down with. I was reluctant, but I saw that it was working." They were all but living together in Ashman's New York apartment but New York was changing for the gay community as more and more friends and loved ones died of AIDS. The men decided to move upstate to the Hudson Valley where Lauch could design their dream house. Ashman had signed on to work for Disney Animation Studios and it seemed like the beginning of a happy ending. Then Ashman was diagnosed with AIDS. 

Their Hudson Valley house became a memorial to Ashman. 

Ashman grew sicker and sicker very quickly after learning he had AIDS. He was not longer able to travel and Lauch took care of him in New York, while he continued to work long-distance on Disney projects. He completed the lyrics for Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast from a hospital bed. After he died, Lauch was left with the house that had been their shared dream, something that he had tried to give his dying husband in the last months of his life, but something that he was left with afterward all alone. "If I had to do it over again, I never would have built the house," Lauch says now. "We would have bought a house or something in the city. I fell into the house after his death. I did my grieving and mourning here. It's an odd fit: it's a house I like very much, but it was custom tailored for a life with Howard."

Lauch's moment in the spotlight came at the 1991 Academy Awards.

Ashman died just a few weeks before "Beauty and the Beast" became the first song from an animated feature to win the Oscar for Best Song. Lauch accepted the award on Ashman's behalf, speaking openly of his death from AIDS. "There's an inscription at Howard's grave in Baltimore," he said in the emotional speech. "It reads, 'O, that he had one more song to sing.' We'll never hear that song, but I'm deeply grateful for this tribute you've given to what he left behind. For Howard, I thank you." 

Lauch accepted an Oscar on his late partner's behalf. 

Howard is available on Disney+ starting August 7. 

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.

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