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Famed Disney songwriter Robert Sherman dies at 86



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Recovering in hospitals in England, he developed a fondness for and familiarity with the country that stuck with him. He wrote for British characters in "Mary Poppins," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "Winnie the Pooh," and spent the last years of his life in London.

After the war, the brothers started writing songs together. They began a decade-long partnership with Disney during the 1960s after having written hit pop songs like "Tall Paul" for ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and "You’re Sixteen," later recorded by Ringo Starr.

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Though they were estranged for a number of years, the brothers never completely broke ties. When asked about that, Richard Sherman said: "We’re human. We have frailties and weaknesses. But we love each other very much, respect each other."

They wrote over 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 Aristocrats" and "The Tigger Movie."

Most of the songs the Shermans wrote — in addition to being catchy and playful — work on multiple levels for different ages, something they learned from Disney.

"He once told us, early on in our 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 4-year-old — and everyone in between — and all see it on a different level," Richard Sherman said.

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 onto something, kiddo.’"

Most of their songs were written quickly, but others took longer. The pair spent two weeks trying to nail down a snappy title for a song sung by the nanny in "Mary Poppins." They considered, and then nixed, "An Apple a Day" and "A Stitch in Time."

"Nothing was coming," Robert Sherman recalled. Then one day his then-8-year-old son came home from school. "I said, ‘How was school?’ He said, ‘Great. We got the (polio) vaccine today.’ I said, ‘Oh, did it hurt?’ He said, ‘No, they just stuck medicine on a lump of sugar.’ I went, ‘Ohhhh!’ That was it!"

"He came in the next day all glassy-eyed," Richard Sherman recalled. The final lyric would become world famous when it emerged from the lips of Julie Andrews: "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."


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Another of their songs — "It’s a Small World (After All)" — has become one of the most translated and performed songs on the planet. It plays on a continual, multilingual loop every few minutes at Disney theme parks across the world — a fact that Disney employees are only too well aware.

"We’ve driven teenagers crazy in every language," quipped Robert Sherman.

Away from the piano, the two raised families and pursued their own interests, yet still lived close to each other in Beverly Hills and continued working together well into their 70s. When "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" came to Broadway in 2005, they added new lyrics and four new songs.

Robert Sherman moved to Britain in 2002 after the death of his wife Joyce. He is survived by his brother and four children: Laurie, Jeffrey, Andrea and Robert.

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Kennedy reported from New York.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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