Robert Sherman, ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Small World’ Songwriter, Dead at 86

Oscar-winning Disney composer Sherman and his brother Richard composed numerous classics that also included “The Jungle Book” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”

Robert B. Sherman, half of a fraternal duo that penned “It’s a Small World” and won a pair Academy Awards for “Mary Poppins,” died Monday in London. He was 86.

Sherman’s son, Jeff, posted a note on his Facebook page late Monday with the news.

“He went peacefully after months of truly valiantly fending off death. He loved life and his dear heart finally slowed to a stop when he could fight no more.  I will write more about this incredible man I love and admire so much when I am better rested and composed. He deserves that,” Jeff Sherman wrote.

Disney President and CEO Bob Iger issued a statement mourning the loss of an extraordinary talent. (Standing at right, with brother Richard at piano.)

“One of the world’s greatest songwriters and a true Disney legend, his legacy will endure forever through the magic of his music," Iger said. "From 'Mary Poppins' and 'It’s a Small World' to 'Winnie the Pooh' and 'The Jungle Book,' Robert, along with his brother Richard, wrote many of Disney’s most memorable and beloved songs, which continue to enchant millions of people around the world to this day.” 

Born Dec. 19, 1925, in New York City, Sherman showed a creative streak early, writing a play, "Armistice and Dedication Day," at age 16. The play, about how Americans' lives were profoundly changed by the Pearl Harbor bombing of Dec. 7, 1941, raised thousands of dollars for war bonds, earning a citation from the War Department.

Sherman's dedication to his country went further in 1943 when he joined the U.S. Army at 17 with his parents' permission. In April 1945, he was among the first Allied forces to enter the Dachau concentration camp after it was abandoned by the German military. Later that month, he was shot in the knee, creating an injury that would leave him reliant on a cane for the remainder of his life.

(Robert Sherman, standing left, with brother Richard and Walt Disney.)

Sherman was awarded several medals for his service during World War II, including a Purple Heart. He spent some time recovering form a gunshot wound in the United Kingdom, a place of endless fascination to the songwriter, and also where he died.

He and his brother Richard took the name the Sherman Brothers, spending years working directly for Walt Disney. Together, they penned music for such enduring Disney classics such as "Mary Poppins," "The Jungle Book," "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" — as well as, of course, the Disney theme-park mainstay "It's a Small World (After All)."

Their work on "Mary Poppins" would earn the brothers two Academy Awards in 1965. Robert B. Sherman would go on to receive numerous other Academy Award nominations and two Grammy Awards. Sales-wise, he also amassed 23 gold and platinum albums.

(Above right, Richard Sherman, "Mary Poppins" stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, and Robert Sherman.)

In 2005, Sherman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, along with his brother and fellow inductees Bill Withers, Steve Cropper, John Fogerty, Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

Sherman dabbled in other creative arts, including clay and metal sculpture, and he had a decades-long interest in painting, which he studied while attending Bard College. He largely kept his painting private until 2002, when an exhibition of his work was held at Thompson's Gallery in London. Exhibitions in Florida and California followed.

Sherman married Joyce Ruth Sasner in 1953, with whom he had four children. Joyce died in 2001.