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Jerry Herman, The Broadway Composer Who Wrote ‘Hello Dolly!,’ ‘Mame,’ La Cage Aux Folles,’ Dies

Dec 27, 2019, 7:29 AM
Jerry Herman, the beloved Broadway composer and lyricist who penned musicals like "Hello, Dolly," "...
Jerry Herman, the beloved Broadway composer and lyricist who penned musicals like "Hello, Dolly," "Mame" and "La Cage aux Folles," has died. He was 88. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

(CNN) — Jerry Herman, the beloved Broadway composer and lyricist who penned musicals like “Hello, Dolly,” “Mame” and “La Cage aux Folles,” has died. He was 88.

“Jerry gave us such joy through his music,” goddaughter Jane Dorian said in a statement to CNN. “He was the poet laureate of our time and gave so many extraordinary songs. He touched our hearts and souls with his music and we will miss him deeply.”

The musicals Herman scored, like the protagonists they starred, were all anchored by a buoyant optimism and a timeless quality even he admitted was uncommon toward the end of his nearly 40-year career. But his songs have since become standards.

Many of his most notable musicals centered around charismatic women, like “Hello, Dolly!” “Mame” and “Mack & Mabel,” which starred Broadway titans Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury and Bernadette Peters, respectively.

But with “La Cage aux Folles” in 1983, Herman quietly broke ground on Broadway with his portrait of a gay couple who ran a drag nightclub whose relationship woes and triumphs resembled that of any heterosexual couple portrayed on stage. It was a certifiable hit, running for 1,761 performances.

“When they passed out talent, Jerry stood in line twice,” Channing, who died earlier this year at 97, once said of Herman.

His work earned him four Tony Awards, including a Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. In 2010, his work was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors alongside Oprah Winfrey and Sir Paul McCartney.

“I’m certainly aware of how different popular music is today from when I started in this business, and I realize that my songwriting is not generally in fashion,” he told the New York Times in 1985. “But ‘La Cage’ made me feel secure about going on and just being what I am, and writing simple, hummable tunes.”

He largely retired from composing in the 2000s, though he lent his name to awards for high school musical theatre departments in Los Angeles County.

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Jerry Herman, The Broadway Composer Who Wrote ‘Hello Dolly!,’ ‘Mame,’ La Cage Aux Folles,’ Dies