You don’t know him by name, but you probably have every song he wrote ingrained in your brain.
Howard Ashman, the songwriter for “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Aladdin” was a huge inspiration for Bill Condon, director of the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.”
Ashman was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988 while working on “The Little Mermaid.” And he kept his diagnosis a secret until he told his songwriting partner, composer Alan Menken, after they won the best original song Oscar for “Under the Sea.”
At the time, Disney was developing the story for 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Condon told Attitude that it was actually Ashman’s idea to make the Beast a more humanized character and more central to the story. In previous re-tellings, Belle was usually the primary focus.
“And specifically for him [Ashman], it was a metaphor for AIDS,” Condon said. “He was cursed and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him and maybe there was a chance for a miracle and a way for the curse to be lifted. It was a very concrete thing that he was doing.”
Ashman wrote all of the lyrics for the movie while he was sick and dying in his home. According to Vice, Disney studio chief Jeff Katzenberg paid for the private nurse who attended to him.
Ashman, age 40, passed away on March 14, 1991 – that’s 26 years ago this week, and eight months before the animated version came out. In his honor, the 1991 film has a touching tribute at the end credits:
- Vanity Fair