Howard Ashman

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Howard Ashman
Howard Ashman
Born Howard Elliott Ashman
(1950-05-17)May 17, 1950
Baltimore, Maryland,
United States
Died March 14, 1991(1991-03-14) (aged 40)
New York City, New York,
United States
Cause of death AIDS
Resting place Oheb Shalom Memorial Park, Baltimore
Occupation Lyricist, Librettist, musician
Years active 1979–1991
Parent(s) Raymond Albert Ashman
Shirley Thelma Glass
Awards Disney Legend (2001)

Howard Elliott Ashman (May 17, 1950 – March 14, 1991) was an American playwright and lyricist.[1] He collaborated with Alan Menken on several films, notably animated features for Disney, Ashman writing the lyrics and Menken composing the music.

Early life and education

Ashman was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Shirley Thelma (née Glass) and Raymond Albert Ashman, an ice cream cone manufacturer.[2] Ashman first studied at Boston University and Goddard College (with a stop at Tufts University's Summer Theater) and then went on to achieve his master's degree from Indiana University in 1974.


After graduating from Indiana in 1974, he spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, an experience that shaped much of his later work. Upon his return, he became the artistic director of the WPA Theater in New York. His first two plays, Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark and Dreamstuff, were met with mixed reviews. His play The Confirmation was produced in 1977 at Princeton's McCarter Theater and starred Herschel Bernardi. He first worked with Alan Menken on a 1979 musical adapted from Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. They also collaborated on Little Shop of Horrors with Ashman as director, lyricist, and librettist, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics.

Ashman was director, lyricist and bookwriter for the 1986 Broadway musical Smile (music by Marvin Hamlisch). Also in 1986, Ashman wrote the screenplay for the Frank Oz–directed film adaptation of his musical Little Shop of Horrors, as well as contributing the lyrics for two new songs, "Some Fun Now" and "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space," the latter of which received an Academy Award nomination.

In 1986, Ashman was brought in to write lyrics for a song in Disney's Oliver & Company. While there, he was told about another project that they had been working on for a couple years. The film was The Little Mermaid, Disney's first fairy tale in 30 years. Ashman, along with Alan Menken, wrote all of the songs for the film. Ashman became a driving force during the early years of the Disney Renaissance. He would hold story meetings and said the animation and musical styles were made for each other which is why Disney needed to continue making musical movies. He also made strong choices in casting actors with strong musical theater and acting backgrounds. The Little Mermaid was released in November 1989 and it was an enormous success. Ashman and Menken received two Golden Globe nominations and three Academy Award nominations including two for "Kiss The Girl" and "Under The Sea", for Ashman won both awards for the latter.

In 1988, while working on The Little Mermaid, Ashman pitched to Disney the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin. After he wrote a group of songs with partner Alan Menken and a film treatment, a screenplay was written by Linda Woolverton, who had worked on Beauty and the Beast.[3] Then directors John Musker and Ron Clements joined the production. The story underwent many changes and some elements of the original treatment were dropped. Out of the 16 songs written for Aladdin, three of Howard's songs ended up in the finished film, which was released after his death.

During early production of Aladdin, Ashman and Menken were approached to help reinvigorate and save the production of Beauty and the Beast, which was going nowhere as a non-musical. Ashman, wishing to focus on Aladdin and his health, reluctantly agreed. It was at this time that his health began to decline due to his illness. Regardless, he completed lyrical work on Beauty and the Beast before succumbing to AIDS. The film was released mere months after his death and is dedicated to him.

Along with Menken, Ashman was the co-recipient of two Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and two Academy Awards. Upon receiving his second Academy Award posthumously, William P. "Bill" Lauch, his partner, accepted the award in his stead.[4]

Illness and death

On the night of the 62nd Academy Awards, Ashman told Menken that they needed to have an important talk when they got back to New York, where he revealed to Menken that he was HIV positive. He had been diagnosed in 1988, midway through the making of The Little Mermaid. During the making of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney animators were told to go work with Ashman at his home in Fishkill, New York, but nobody told them why they were being flown out there. A lot of the animators thought it was because he was a big shot, but then it became clear to them that he was seriously ill. He grew weaker, but he remained productive and continued to write songs. On March 10, 1991, the Disney animators had their first screening for Beauty and the Beast and it was an enormous success. Afterward, they visited Howard in the hospital. He weighed 80 pounds, had lost all of his sight, and could barely speak. His mother showed the animators that he was wearing a Beauty and the Beast sweatshirt. The animators told him that the film was incredibly well received by the press and described to him in detail how it had gone. He nodded appreciatively to the news. As everyone said their goodbyes, producer Don Hahn leaned over to Howard and said, "Beauty and the Beast is going to be a great success. Who'd have thought it?", to which Ashman replied with "I would have." Four days later, on March 14, Ashman, age 40, died from complications from AIDS, in New York City.[5] Beauty and the Beast is dedicated to him: "To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950–1991." Ashman never married, but he was survived by his partner Bill Lauch, his sister Sarah Ashman-Gillespie, and his mother Shirley Thelma Glass.[5] In a commentary for the film, it was revealed that Ashman did get to see an unfinished version of Beauty before his death. According to producer Don Hahn, Ashman had mentioned that he was very fond of the film and was proud of the work he and Menken had done.

Awards and accolades

Beauty and the Beast was released in November 1991, eight months after Ashman's death, and it was an enormous success, both financially and critically. The film received four Golden Globe nominations winning three (including Best Picture- Musical or Comedy making it the first animated film to win) and six Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) winning two. Ashman was posthumously nominated for two Golden Globes ("Beauty and the Beast", "Be Our Guest") and three Academy Awards ("Beauty and the Beast", "Be Our Guest", "Belle"). He won both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for "Beauty and the Beast". His second Academy Award in 1992 was accepted by his partner, Bill Lauch.

Ashman and Menken had also written eleven songs intended for Aladdin. They had an idea for a song involving a magic carpet ride, but Ashman died before the song could be written. As a result, Menken wrote several new songs with Tim Rice. However, "Arabian Nights," "Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali" were the only songs that Ashman wrote to be included in the finished film. Aladdin was also an enormous critical and financial success. Ashman was once again posthumously nominated for two Golden Globes ("Friend Like Me", "Prince Ali") and one Academy Award ("Friend Like Me"). Rice paid tribute to Ashman while accepting the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "A Whole New World" on March 29, 1993.[6]

Ashman was posthumously named a Disney Legend in 2001. On the 2002 Special Edition DVD of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney animators teamed up again and added a new song called "Human Again", which Ashman and Menken had written for the film, but was cut from the finished film. On Disc 2, there is a short documentary entitled Howard Ashman: In Memoriam that features many people who worked on Beauty and the Beast who talk about Howard's involvement on the film and how his death was truly a loss for them.

Jeffrey Katzenberg claims there are two angels watching down on them that put their magic touch on every film they made. The two angels were Howard and Walt Disney himself.[citation needed]

An album of Ashman singing his own work entitled Howard Sings Ashman was released on November 11, 2008, by PS Classics as part of the Library of Congress "Songwriter Series."

The 2009 documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, about Disney's animation renaissance, is dedicated to him, as well as Frank Wells, Joe Ranft, and Roy E. Disney.

Best known works


  1. Obituary Variety, March 18, 1991.
  2. "Howard Ashman Biography (1950–1991)". Retrieved 2012-01-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Aladdin: Crew Reunion". Animated Views. Retrieved 2009-05-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Top 10 Notable People Who Died From AIDS
  5. 5.0 5.1 Blau, Eleanor."Howard Ashman Is Dead at 40; Writer of 'Little Shop of Horrors'"New York Times, March 15, 1991
  6. "Inmagic DB/Text WebPublisher: 1 records". Retrieved 2012-06-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links