Jerry Herman, the Broadway composer who wrote the music and lyrics for such classic shows as “Hello, Dolly!” “Mame” and “La Cage aux Folles,” died Thursday in Miami of pulmonary complications, the Associated Press reported. He was 88.
Over his storied career, Herman won four Tony Awards, including a 2009 Lifetime Achievement honor. He earned honors for his score for “Hello, Dolly!” in 1964 and for “La Cage aux Folles” in 1984, and then another as a producer of the 2017 Bette Midler-led revival of “Hello, Dolly!”
He also earned two Grammy Awards: Song of the Year in 1964 for the title tune from “Hello, Dolly!” and Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album in 1966 for “Mame.” He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2010.
Herman was one of the last Broadway composers in the Rodgers & Hammerstein tradition, who relied on hummable melodies and optimistic, seize-the-day lyrics reflected in such songs as “The Best of Times,” “Tap Your Troubles Away,” “We Need a Little Christmas” and “Before the Parade Passes By.”
In accepting the Tony Award for “La Cage” in 1984, he acknowledged that he was a bit of a throwback at a time when the more melodically complicated scores of Stephen Sondheim and others seemed to be dominating the scene. “This award forever shatters a myth about the musical theater,” he said. “There’s been a rumor around for a couple of years that the simple, hummable show tune was no longer welcome on Broadway. Well, it’s alive and well and living at the Palace.”
He was also a trailblazing advocate for LGBTQ rights. “La Cage aux Folles,” an adaptation of a 1978 French comedic film of the same name, centered on a longtime committed gay male couple who own a splashy drag club on the French Riviera and have raised a son from one of the partner’s previous relationships. The show’s signature tune, “I Am What I Am,” became a gay anthem that anticipated greater public acceptance for LGBTQ rights.
Herman, who is survived by his partner, real estate broker Terry Marler, was also forthright about his own homosexuality.
Tributes quickly poured in for Herman. “We lost one of the greats,” wrote Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book for “La Cage” and starred in the 2010 Broadway revival. “I cannot thank him enough for his love, trust, encouragement, support and laughter.”
Jerry Herman lost his hard fought battle last night and we lost one of the greats. A collaborator and friend for almost 40 years, I cannot thank him enough for his love, trust, encouragement, support and laughter. Well done, Mr Herman. Bravo! pic.twitter.com/QYws9jQu6h
— Harvey Fierstein (@HarveyFierstein) December 27, 2019
RIP Jerry Herman, a great man of the theater. I once had a meeting at his Upper East Side townhouse, where I was greeted by a uniformed butler and then the delightful Mr. Herman, standing beside a full-length oil portrait of Angela Lansbury as Mame. He provided such joy pic.twitter.com/CEKFNR4gBX
— Paul Rudnick (@PaulRudnickNY) December 27, 2019