Richard Sherman, songwriter for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, dies aged 95

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Richard Sherman, who with his brother penned songs for films loved by generations of children, including the Jungle Book, Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, has died.

Sherman, who was 95, together with his late brother Robert, won two Academy awards for Walt Disney’s 1964 smash Mary Poppins – best score and best song, Chim Chim Cher-ee. They also picked up a Grammy for best movie or TV score and composed what is believed to be the most-played tune on Earth – It’s a Small World (After All), which accompanies visitors on Disney theme parks’ boat ride.

Talking to the Guardian in 2013, a year after Robert died, about their work for Mary Poppins, Richard Sherman said: “Bob and I spent two and a half years writing 34 songs, many for sequences that were never used, since we didn’t have a final script to work to – two writers had tried but failed to please Walt. The song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious came about because Bob and I had been to summer camp when we were young, and had held a contest to find a word longer than antidisestablishmentarianism, the longest word in the dictionary. We came up with all sorts of crazy inventions, and were reminded of this when we wanted the Banks children to bring back a non-tangible souvenir from their fantasy adventures.”

The Shermans, who credited their father, the composer Al Sherman, with challenging them to write songs, began a decade-long partnership with Disney during the 1960s after having written hit pop songs such as Tall Paul for the ex-Mouseketeer and You’re Sixteen, later recorded by Ringo Starr.

They wrote more than 150 songs at Disney, including the soundtracks for such films as The Sword and the Stone, The Parent Trap, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats and The Tigger Movie.

In a 2005 joint interview with the Associated Press, Richard Sherman said Disney told them early in their career: “‘Don’t insult the kid – don’t write down to the kid. And don’t write just for the adult.’ So we write for grandpa and the four-year-old – and everyone in between – and all see it on a different level.”

Their awards included 23 gold and platinum albums and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and they were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

President George W Bush awarded them the National Medal of Arts in 2008, commended for music that “has helped bring joy to millions”.

Richard Sherman said: “Something good happens when we sit down together and work. We’ve been doing it all our lives. Practically since college we’ve been working together.”

Academy Awards winners Richard Sherman, right, and Robert Sherman, left, with actor Debbie Reynolds, posing after receiving the award for ‘Mary Poppins’.View image in fullscreen

The Shermans teased songs out of each other, brainstorming titles and then trying to top each other with improvements. “Being brothers, we sort of short-cut each other,” Richard Sherman said. “We can almost look at each other and know, ‘Hey, you’re on to something, kiddo.’”

They lived close to each other in Beverly Hills and continued working well into their 70s. When Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came to Broadway in 2005, they added new lyrics and four new songs.

The Walt Disney Co announced that Sherman died on Saturday in a Los Angeles hospital due to age-related illness and said a celebration of life service would be announced later. “Generations of moviegoers and theme park guests have been introduced to the world of Disney through the Sherman brothers’ magnificent and timeless songs. Even today, the duo’s work remains the quintessential lyrical voice of Walt Disney,” the company said.

Richard Sherman is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children: Gregory and Victoria. He is also survived by a daughter, Lynda, from a previous marriage.

A private funeral will be held on Friday.


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