I Am What I Am composer Jerry Herman dies aged 88

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Composer Jerry Herman, who created the music and lyrics to classic Broadway shows like Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles, has died aged 88.

The star, who was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s, died in Miami on Thursday of pulmonary complications, his god-daughter told the Associated Press.

Herman won two Tony Awards and two Grammys, and was known for his melodic, sentimental and upbeat style.

One of his best-known songs was I Am What I Am, which became an LGBT anthem.

Choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne led tributes to the musician, describing him as “one of the all-time greats.”

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The New Yorker was seen as the successor to Irving Berlin, and he acknowledged that seeing the Russian-American composer’s Annie Get Your Gun had set him on the path to Broadway.

“I walked out of that theatre singing all those wonderful Berlin songs and, from that moment on, that’s all I wanted to do with my life,” he told NPR in 1994.

In 1964 Hello, Dolly! – the story of a matchmaker trying to find a partner for an unmarried rich man – became his first major success.

Starring Carol Channing, it ran for a record-breaking 2,844 performances on Broadway, and went on to win 10 Tony awards, including best composer and lyricist for Herman, who also won a Grammy for the title song.

Two years later came Mame, the tale of an eccentric bohemian whose lavish lifestyle is interrupted by the arrival of her nephew. Critics said the show, which starred Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur, was too similar to Herman’s previous hit – but it ran for four years.

Both musicals became well-known movies, with Barbra Streisand starring in the 1969 adaptation of Hello, Dolly! directed by Gene Kelly.

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The 1970s were less successful for Herman and the musical Mack and Mabel closed quickly – although its songs, including I Won’t Send Roses, later became standards.

In 1983, he premiered La Cage aux Folles, a musical version of a French comedy about a gay couple became. It became his third hit and Gloria Gaynor’s cover of its big number, I Am What I Am, became an 80s disco classic.

It took the Tony award for best musical and was to be Herman’s last big smash, as he devoted more time to his off-stage career of developing property.

However, he was to fall under the spotlight one final time, when one of Hello, Dolly’s songs, entitled It Only Takes a Moment, was used prominently in the 2008 Pixar movie Wall-E, after the director stumbled upon it by chance.

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Jerry Herman and Elton John

Herman had been living with his partner, real estate broker Terry Marler, at the time of his death.

Such is the enduring appeal of his tunes that Hello, Dolly! is set for a West End revival next year, with Imelda Staunton in the lead role.

Last month, Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood delivered his own interpretation of the show, performing in drag to a medley of Herman’s songs during musicals week.

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And in 1982, British ice skaters Torvill and Dean famously used the overture from his musical Mack And Mabel to soundtrack their gold medal-winning routine at the World Championships in Copenhagen.

After the BBC was flooded with calls from people asking where they could buy the music, the original cast album was re-released and reached the top 40 – eight years after its Broadway premiere.

When Herman heard the news, he was perplexed that the British public had suddenly fallen in love with a show that closed after 66 performances and never transferred to the West End.

“I said, ‘That’s got to be a mistake, because show albums in these days don’t get into charts,'” he told the Telegraph, confessing that the notorious flop had actually been his favourite piece of work.

“My musicals are my children [so] I should never say I prefer this to that,” he explained, but “I just have never tired of Mack and Mabel.

“I guess you kind of love the one that didn’t make it.”

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