Howard Ashman dies wrote musicals

March 15, 1991

Howard Ashman, a Baltimore-area native whose songs and musicals won an Academy Award, a New York Drama Critics Award, two Grammys, two Golden Globe Awards and a British Evening Standard Award, died yesterday at a hospital in New York of complications to AIDS, according to the WPA Theatre.

He was 40.

Mr. Ashman, who lived in New York, wrote the lyrics for "Under the Sea" for the Disney movie "The Little Mermaid."

The song won the 1989 Academy Award for Best Song, and Mr. Ashman and his collaborator, Alan Menken, won two Grammys and two Golden Globes for their work on the score for the movie.

They won the 1982-1983 Drama Critics Award and the British award for their musical version of "Little Shop of Horrors," which was staged by WPA Theatre, the off-Broadway theater where Mr. Ashman was artistic director from 1977 to 1982.

"Little Shop of Horrors," the highest-grossing musical in Broadway history, has been staged in at least 19 other countries and has tied "Our Town" as the play most often produced by high school groups.

Based on a movie, the musical was itself made into a movie, for which Mr. Ashman received an Academy Award nomination in 1986.

Mr. Ashman graduated from Milford Mill High School and attended Boston University before graduating from Goddard College in Vermont and earning a master's degree at Indiana University.

At Milford Mill, he co-wrote "The Brat's Meow," a musical that was produced at the school. Earlier, he wrote another adaptation of the original "Little Shop" movie, called the "Candy Shop."

He moved to New York in 1974 and became an editor for the Grossett and Dunlop publishing house. He also wrote plays that included "Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark," "The Confirmation" and "Dreamstuff," a musical version of "The Tempest" that was produced by the WPA Theatre.

He wrote the book and lyrics for "Little Shop of Horrors," a musical version of "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater" and "Smile" and directed each. He received a Tony nomination for the book of "Smiles," which was produced on Broadway.

He is survived by his longtime companion, William Lauch of New York; his mother, Shirley Gershman of the Bonnie Ridge Apartments; and a sister, Sarah Gillespie of New York.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros., 6010 Reisterstown Road.

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