Richard M. Sherman, Disney Legend and Songwriter Behind ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘The Jungle Book,’ Dies at 95

Richard M. Sherman, one-half of the prolific Disney songwriting duo The Sherman Brothers, has died. He was 95.

Sherman and his brother Robert were responsible for dozens of the brand’s most memorable cinematic songs. They were most known for their work on “Mary Poppins,” which earned the duo two Oscars, the soundtrack for “The Jungle Book” and “It’s a Small World.”

“Richard Sherman was the embodiment of what it means to be a Disney Legend, creating along with his brother Robert the beloved classics that have become a cherished part of the soundtrack of our lives,” Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said in a statement Saturday.

“From films like ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ to attractions like ‘It’s a Small World,’ the music of the Sherman Brothers has captured the hearts of generations of audiences. We are forever grateful for the mark Richard left on the world, and we extend our deepest condolences to his family,” the executive concluded.

Sherman died on Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills due to age-related illness.

After he was drafted into the military in 1953, Sherman was honorably discharged in 1955. He went to school at Bard College, where he majored in music. He and his brother began writing songs soon after graduation at the behest of their father.

While speaking to Smashing Interviews Magazine in 2015, Sherman said of his father Al, “Our father was a very popular and successful songwriter named Al Sherman … My father wrote big standards like ‘You Gotta Be a Football Hero.’ You hear it all the time at football games. ‘You’ve got to be a football hero to get along with the beautiful girls.’ That was my father’s song.”

“My father was a very successful pop song writer. He decided that Bob and I would make a good team, so he teamed us up,” he added.

The pair enjoyed their first top 10 hit song in 1958 with the release of “Tall Paul.” The song was sung by Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and it caught the attention of executives at Disney, who hired the brothers as staff songwriters.

Sherman explained, “One day, Walt Disney decided he wanted to put Annette into a film, and he said, ‘Why don’t we get those two brothers that are writing the cute songs for her?’ He knew our work by now, and Walt said, ‘Maybe they’ll write a song for this film.’ That’s how it started. We wrote a song for Annette. Walt liked it.”

From there, the pair were asked to write songs for Hayley Mills’ “The Parent Trap,” a task they handled well. One thing led to another and they picked up work for “Mary Poppins.” As Sherman told the outlet, “One day, Walt handed us a book, and it was called ‘Mary Poppins’ by Pamela Travers. He said, ‘Read it, and tell me what you think.’ We did and told him, ‘Walt, this potentially could be a terrific musical. It could be a gigantic musical if we could round up these stories and make one single story out of it.’ He liked our thinking and put us on staff.”

The duo won two Oscars—Best Score – Substantially Original and Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee” for their work on “Mary Poppins.” Their song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” hit the Billboard Top 100 charts in 1965.

Leonard Maltin, film historian, author and educator said of the duo, “The Sherman Brothers were professional optimists who found a perfect patron in Walt Disney. Their songs had an upbeat outlook that spilled over into Richard’s life, which was not without its troubles and challenges. He was especially proud that he and his brother carried on a songwriting career like their father, who encouraged them early on.”

The brothers’ first assignment for Disney was on the made-for-TV movie “The Horsemasters.” They would go on to write over 200 songs for the studio, and their credits included songs on “The Absent-Minded Professor” (1961), “The Parent Trap” (1961), “Summer Magic” (1963), “The Sword in the Stone” (1963), “That Darn Cat!” (1965), “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” (1966), “The Jungle Book” (1967), “The Happiest Millionaire” (1967), “The Aristocats” (1970), and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971).

The Shermans left the studio in the early 1970s but continued to work in the industry. They also provided music and even screenplays to “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968), “Snoopy Come Home” (1972), “Charlotte’s Web” (1973), “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1973), “Huckleberry Finn” (1974) and “The Slipper and the Rose” (1976).

Their work also included a song for the World’s Fair. “It’s a Small World” was written as a “prayer for peace,” Sherman once explained. “We weren’t trying to write a happy little jingle. We were actually saying, ‘Let’s not kill each other. Let’s learn to respect each other. Let’s learn to give each other a little space,” he said. “It’s a small world, so learn to love and respect each other.”

In 1973, the pair became the only Americans to win first prize at the Moscow Film Festival, the Russian equivalent of the Oscars, for their musical “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” which starred a young Jodie Foster. They were inducted into Disney Legends in 1990 and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.

President George W. Bush awarded the brothers the National Medal of the Arts in 2005. First Lady Laura Bush said that time, “These medals recognize great contributions to art, music, theater, literature, history, and general scholarship … Recipients of the National Medal of the Arts represent the breadth of American creativity and the depth of the human spirit.”

Sherman’s brother died in 2012. In 2013, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman played the Sherman Brothers in “Saving Mr. Banks,” and in 2018 Disney renamed Stage A to the Sherman Brothers Stage.

Sherman was born on June 12, 1928, in New York City. His family moved across the country several times before putting down roots in Beverly Hills in 1937. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Elizabeth, his son Gregory and grandsons William and Matthew; daughter Victoria Wolf, son-in-law Doug Wolf, and grandchildren Mandy and Anthony. He is also survived by his daughter from a previous marriage, Lynda Rothstein, as well as her two children and three grandchildren.

A private funeral is scheduled to take place May 31 at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles. Plans for a celebration of life will be announced at a later date.

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