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″Little Mermaid” Lyricist Dead at Age 40

March 15, 1991 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Howard Ashman, the award-winning lyricist who thrilled audiences with the songs from ″The Little Mermaid″ and ″Little Shop of Horrors″ has died. He was 40.

Ashman died Thursday at St. Vincent’s Hospital of complications from AIDS, said Dan Scheffey, a spokesman for Walt Disney Pictures.

Ashman’s death came one month after he won two Grammy Awards for ″The Little Mermaid″: best song written specifically for motion picture or television for ″Under The Sea,″ and best recording for children for the movie’s sound track.

The film also brought him a 1989 Golden Globe Award for best original song and the 1989 Academy Award for best song, both for ″Under the Sea.″

Ashman also won praise for ″Little Shop of Horrors,″ the top grossing musical in Off-Broadway history that later became a hit movie. He received an Oscar nomination for best song in 1986 for ″Mean Green Mother From Outer Space.″

″Howard was a triple threat talent. He could write lyrics, direct and write books,″ said Marvin Hamlisch, who worked with Ashman on the 1986 Broadway production of ″Smile.″

Ashman also worked on two upcoming animated Disney films, ″Beauty and the Beast″ and ″Aladdin,″ said longtime collaborator Alan Menken.

″This is absolutely his very best work. His star is still rising,″ Menken said.

″Beauty and the Beast″ is due out in November and ″Aladdin″ at Christmas 1992.

″We will remember him for many things, including his deep commitment to the art of animation,″ said Roy Disney, nephew of Walt Disney and current vice chairman of Walt Disney Co.

Born in Baltimore, Ashman was educated at Goddard College and Boston University. He received a master’s degree in fine arts from Indiana University.

Ashman arrived in New York in 1974 and while editing at the publishing house Grosset & Dunlap started to write plays. He soon began working with the Off-Off Broadway WPA Theatre, becoming the artistic director in 1977 and later writing the musical version of ″Little Shop of Horrors.″

Survivors include longtime companion, architect William Launch of New York; sister Sarah Gillespie of New York; and mother Shirley Gershman of Baltimore.

Services will be held Sunday in Baltimore.

A memorial service will be held in New York at a later date.