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Howard Ashman
Ashman in 1989
Howard Elliott Ashman

(1950-05-17)May 17, 1950
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
DiedMarch 14, 1991(1991-03-14) (aged 40)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeOhev Shalom Memorial Park, Reisterstown, Maryland, U.S.
Alma materIndiana University
Boston University
  • Playwright
  • lyricist
  • stage director
Years active1977–1991
Notable workLittle Shop of Horrors
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
Partner(s)Stuart White (1969–1980, 1983)
Bill Lauch (1984–1991)
Awards2 Academy Awards (1989, 1991)
5 Grammy Awards (1991, 1993, 1994)

Howard Elliott Ashman (May 17, 1950 – March 14, 1991) was an American playwright, lyricist and stage director.[1] He is most widely known for his work on feature films for Walt Disney Animation Studios, for which Ashman wrote the lyrics and Alan Menken composed the music.[2] Ashman has been credited as being a main driving force behind the Disney Renaissance.[3][4][5][6] His work included songs for Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Tim Rice took over to write the rest of the songs for the latter film after Ashman's death in 1991.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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    2 136
    5 908
    402 896
    65 332
    98 185
  • Call Me a Princess - Howard Ashman - Work Tape Excerpt - Aladdin
  • Genesis of a Song: Alan Menken Breaks Down Writing His Little Shop of Horrors ‘Prologue
  • "Beauty And The Beast" Wins Original Song: 1992 Oscars
  • Friend Like Me - Howard Ashman - Demo Sync
  • Part of Your World | Howard Ashman Directs Jodi Benson | The Little Mermaid | Recording Session


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.[7] His family was Jewish.[8][9] He started his theater experiences with the Children's Theater Association (CTA), playing roles such as Aladdin.[10] Ashman first studied at Boston University and Goddard College (with a stop at Tufts University's Summer Theater) and then went on to earn a master's degree in Fine Arts at Indiana University in 1974.[11]


After graduating from Indiana in 1974, Ashman moved to New York and worked as an editor at Grosset & Dunlap. His first two plays, Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark and Dreamstuff, were met with mixed reviews. Ashman's play The Confirmation was produced in 1977 at Princeton's McCarter Theater and starred Herschel Bernardi. In 1977, he became the artistic director of the WPA Theater in New York. Ashman met future collaborator Alan Menken at the BMI Workshop, where he was classmates with Maury Yeston and Ed Kleban, among others. He first worked with Menken on the 1979 musical Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, adapted from Vonnegut's novel of the same name.[2] They also collaborated on Little Shop of Horrors with Ashman as director, lyricist, and librettist, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics and receiving a Grammy Award nomination.[12] Ashman also directed the workshop of Nine by Yeston at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, and after asking why Guido's wife stays with him after she knows he has not been faithful, inspired Yeston to write "My Husband Makes Movies".[13]

Ashman was director, lyricist, and book writer for the 1986 Broadway musical Smile (music by Marvin Hamlisch). This musical was not well received[14] and closed with only 48 performances.[2] 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 Walt Disney Animation Studios' Oliver & Company. He then also worked with Tina Turner on a script[15] which never came to fruition.[16] While there, Ashman was offered several works which had been on the back burner and was told about another project that Disney 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 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.[2] Ashman 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 Best Original Song nominations for "Kiss the Girl" and "Under The Sea" with Ashman and Menken winning for the latter.

In 1988, while working on The Little Mermaid, Ashman pitched the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin to Disney. 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.[17] Directors John Musker and Ron Clements then joined the production, and the story underwent many changes, with some elements of the original treatment being dropped. Out of the 16 songs written for Aladdin, three of Ashman'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 his death in March 1991. The film was released mere months after his death and is dedicated to him. In May 2020, Beauty and the Beast co-director Kirk Wise said, "If you had to point to one person responsible for the 'Disney Renaissance', I would say it was Howard."[18]

Along with Menken, Ashman was the co-recipient of two Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and two Academy Awards.

Personal life

Ashman met Stuart White, one of his first partners, at a summer university program in 1969.[19] Originally close friends, the two formed a bond which led to a relationship.[20] They both completed master's degrees at Indiana University and then moved to upstate New York. Ashman and White re-opened the Workshop of Players Art Foundation (WPA) together as artistic directors.[21] The two fell out in 1980, but reunited briefly in 1983.

Ashman then met Bill Lauch in 1984, who worked as an architect. Lauch accepted Ashman's posthumous Oscar for Beauty and the Beast in 1992 after Ashman's death.[22][23]


During production of The Little Mermaid in 1988, Ashman was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, though he continued to write songs. Peter Kunze noted that Ashman was supported by Jeffrey Katzenberg; Disney created a production unit near his home in Beacon, New York, allowing him to continue working on Beauty and the Beast while undergoing treatment at Saint Vincent's Hospital in New York City.[11][24] An early cut of the film was screened for Ashman, but he never saw it completed. Ashman died from his HIV/AIDS positive diagnosis on March 14, 1991, at the age of 40 years old.[11][25]

Beauty and the Beast, released eight months later, was dedicated to his memory, featuring the message after the end credits: To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice, and a beast his soul. We will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950-1991. He was buried in the Ohev Shalom Cemetery in Reistertown, Maryland.[26]

Awards and nominations

Over the course of his career, Ashman won two Academy Awards (one posthumous) out of seven nominations. Of these nominations, four are posthumous nominations, the most in Academy Awards history.[citation needed] He also won a posthumous Laurence Olivier Award and five Grammy Awards (three of them posthumous), among other accolades.


Award Year Project Category Outcome
Academy Awards 1986 Little Shop of Horrors Best Original Song
for the song "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space"
1989 The Little Mermaid Best Original Song
for the song "Under the Sea"
Best Original Song
for the song "Kiss the Girl"
1991 Beauty and the Beast Best Original Song
for the song "Beauty and the Beast" (Posthumous)
Best Original Song
for the song "Be Our Guest" (Posthumous)
Best Original Song
for the song "Belle" (Posthumous)
1992 Aladdin Best Original Song
for the song "Friend Like Me" (Posthumous)
British Academy Film Awards 1992 Beauty and the Beast Best Film Music Nominated
Drama Desk Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Outstanding Lyrics Won
Outstanding Director of a Musical Nominated
1994 Beauty and the Beast Outstanding Lyrics
2014 Aladdin Outstanding Lyrics
Evening Standard Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Best Musical Won
Golden Globe Awards 1989 The Little Mermaid Best Original Song
for the song "Under the Sea"
Best Original Song
for the song "Kiss the Girl"
1991 Beauty and the Beast Best Original Song
for the song "Beauty and the Beast" (Posthumous)
Best Original Song
for the song "Be Our Guest" (Posthumous)
1992 Aladdin Best Original Song
for the song "Friend Like Me" (Posthumous)
Best Original Song
for the song "Prince Ali" (Posthumous)
Grammy Awards 1984 Little Shop of Horrors Best Musical Cast Show Album Nominated
1990 Oliver and Company: Story and Songs from the Motion Picture Best Recording for Children Nominated
1991 The Little Mermaid: Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack Best Recording for Children Won
The Little Mermaid Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television
for the song "Under the Sea"
Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television
for the song "Kiss the Girl"
1993 Beauty and the Beast: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Best Musical Album for Children
Album of the Year
Beauty and the Beast Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television
for the song "Beauty and the Beast" (Posthumous)
Song of the Year
for the song "Beauty and the Beast" (Posthumous)
1994 Aladdin: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Best Musical Album for Children
Aladdin Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television
for the song "Friend Like Me" (Posthumous)
Laurence Olivier Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Musical of the Year Nominated
1998 Beauty and the Beast Best New Musical
New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Best Musical Won
Outer Critics Circle Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Best Off-Broadway Musical Won
Best Score Won
Tony Awards 1987 Smile Best Book of a Musical Nominated
1994 Beauty and the Beast Best Original Score
2008 The Little Mermaid Best Original Score
2014 Aladdin Best Original Score

Special recognitions


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 had been cut from the finished product. 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 Ashman'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. Those two angels are Ashman and Walt Disney himself.[28]

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, which centers around Disney's animation renaissance, is dedicated to him, as well as Frank Wells, Joe Ranft, and Roy E. Disney.

In March 2017, Don Hahn confirmed he was working on a documentary biographical film about Howard Ashman.[29] The documentary film titled Howard premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22, 2018,[2][30] before having a limited theatrical run on December 18, 2018. It was released on Disney+ on August 7, 2020, and was initially slated for removal on May 26, 2023.[31] However, Disney reversed course in response to fan outcry.[32]

Like with the original Beauty and the Beast, the 2023 live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid was also dedicated to his memory.



  1. ^ Obituary Variety, March 18, 1991.
  2. ^ a b c d e Robinson, Joanna (April 20, 2018). "Inside the Tragedy and Triumph of Disney Genius Howard Ashman". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 21, 2018..
  3. ^ Knegt, Peter (March 11, 2021). "The remarkable story of Howard Ashman, who changed Disney forever while battling AIDS". CBC. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  4. ^ Brady, Tara (August 3, 2020). "The untold story of the man who gave Disney's beast its soul". The Irish Times. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  5. ^ Schwartz, Dana (March 24, 2017). "How 'Beauty and the Beast' Became a Heartbreaking Metaphor for AIDS". Observer. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  6. ^ Landis, Michael (November 5, 2019). "The Little Mermaid' Has Been Subverting Expectations for Decades". Smithsonian. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  7. ^ "Howard Ashman Biography (1950–1991)". Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  8. ^ "Don Hahn interview: Beauty And The Beast, Howard Ashman, The Lion King, South Park and Frankenweenie". Den of Geek. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
  9. ^ Glassman, Marvin. "'Beauty' cast member proud of her Jewish roots". Jewish Journal. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
  10. ^ Hahn, Don (August 7, 2020). Howard (Documentary). 6 minutes in.
  11. ^ a b c Blau, Eleanor (March 15, 1991). "Howard Ashman Is Dead at 40; Writer of 'Little Shop of Horrors'". The New York Times. p. A23. Retrieved May 27, 2023.
  12. ^ "26th Annual Grammy Awards (1983)". Grammy. 1983. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  13. ^ "ATW's Working in the Theatre #67 Playscript (Winter 1982)". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021.
  14. ^ Rich, Frank (November 25, 1986). "Theater: 'Smile,' A Musical Comedy". New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  15. ^ Hahn, Don (August 7, 2020). Howard (Documentary). 46 minutes in.
  16. ^ Lenker, Maureen (August 7, 2020). "12 things we learned from the Disney+ documentary Howard". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  17. ^ "Aladdin: Crew Reunion". Animated Views. Retrieved May 31, 2009.
  18. ^ "10 Things We Learned from Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale During WDFM Happily Ever After Hours". Laughing Place. May 14, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  19. ^ Roberts, Jon (May 31, 2019). "Howard Ashman: A Queer Legacy Not to be Forgotten". Storyhouse. Retrieved April 21, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. ^ Hahn, Don (August 7, 2020). Howard (Documentary). 8 minutes in.
  21. ^ Renick, Kyle (January 9, 2019). "A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WPA THEATRE (WORKSHOP OF THE PLAYERS ART FOUNDATION, INC.)". Howard Ashman. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  22. ^ "Beauty And The Beast" Wins Original Song: 1992 Oscars (Video). March 29, 1993 [2015]. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021.
  23. ^ "Top 10 Notable People Who Died From AIDS – Listverse". Listverse. December 1, 2011. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
  24. ^ Kunze, Peter (April 22, 2022). "LBGTQ audiences and artists helped save Disney". Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 22, 2022.
  25. ^ Hahn, Don (March 26, 2010). Waking Sleeping Beauty (Documentary). Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
  26. ^ Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786479924.
  27. ^ Howard Ashman Papers (Report). January 1, 2011. p. 13.
  28. ^ Howard Ashman: A short tribute. YouTube. August 19, 2013. Event occurs at 2:19. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021.
  29. ^ Hetrick, Adam (March 7, 2017). "Beauty and the Beast Lyricist Howard Ashman Subject of New Documentary Film". Playbill. New York City: Playbill, Inc. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
  30. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (April 11, 2018). "'Howard' Clip: Tribeca Docu Spotlights Oscar-Winning Disney Lyricist Howard Ashman". Deadline Hollywood. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  31. ^ Weatherbed, Jess (May 19, 2023). "Disney will remove over 50 shows from Disney Plus and Hulu this month". The Verge. Retrieved May 19, 2023.
  32. ^ Andreeva, Nellie; Petski, Denise (May 19, 2023). "'Howard' Documentary Will Remain On Disney+; List Of Disney Streaming Removals Still Being Finalized – Update". Deadline. Retrieved May 19, 2023.

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