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The man behind the lyrics to ‘Beauty and the Beast' didn't live to see the final film

"Beauty and the Beast" lyricist Howard Ashman.
Alan Menken (L) and Howard Ashman accept the Oscar for "Under The Sea," from "The Little Mermaid."
Playwright and lyricist Howard Ashman.
Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman recording "Beauty and the Beast" on June 8, 1990.
Waking Sleeping Beauty

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Disney's new live-action remake of "Beauty and the Beast" broke box office records this past opening weekend. 

The beloved animated "Beauty and the Beast," which came out in 1991, was a major hit for the studio as well — with both audiences and critics. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, and was the first animated feature nominated for Best Picture.

In the end, "Beauty and the Beast" took home two Oscars, one for Best Original Song, for "Beauty and the Beast," performed by Angela Lansbury with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman.

Ashman worked on Disney's "The Little Mermaid" (producer and lyrics), "Beauty and the Beast" (executive producer and lyrics) and "Aladdin" (lyrics), but those who knew him say his influence goes far beyond those credits.

Playwright and lyricist Howard Ashman. Courtesy of
Playwright and lyricist Howard Ashman. Courtesy of
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Linda Woolverton, who wrote the screenplay for the animated "Beauty and the Beast," says Howard Ashman's work bringing "the musical back to film, but making it in animation, changed kind of everything. It created the renaissance of animation for Disney at the time. It really was a revolutionary idea that struck a chord with the American public, no question at all."

Ashman didn't live to see the immense cultural impact his work at Disney would ultimately have. He died of AIDS in 1991 before "Beauty and the Beast" was released. 

In this feature, "Beauty and the Beast" producer Don Hahn (who's producing a PBS documentary about Ashman), screenwriter Linda Woolverton, and Howard's former partner Bill Lauch recall Howard Ashman's life, work and legacy.

To hear the full piece, click the blue player above. 

Special thanks to Sarah Ashman Gillespie, Howard Ashman's sister.


Ashman recorded a demo of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from "The Little Mermaid." Below you can compare the version Ashman performs and the film version with actress Pat Carroll:



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