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NEW YORK — Composer-lyricist Richard Adler, whose evergreen pop standards include “Heart,” “Hey There,” “Hernando’s Hideaway,” “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Steam Heat,” died June 21 at his home in Southampton, N.Y. He was 90.
Fresh out of the U.S. Naval Reserve after World War II, Adler partnered with co-composer and lyricist Jerry Ross, receiving the mentorship of Broadway great Frank Loesser. Their first notable collaboration was on the song “Rags to Riches,” which became a No. 1 hit for Tony Bennett in 1953.
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After getting their feet wet on Broadway with the 1953 revue John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, which starred Harry Belafonte, Adler and Ross went on to write music and lyrics for two of the biggest midcentury musical smashes: The Pajama Game, which opened in 1954, and Damn Yankees the following year. Both shows played more than 1,000 performances and won consecutive Tony Awards for best musical.
A romantic comedy set in a sleepwear factory, Pajama Game most recently was revived on Broadway in an acclaimed 2006 production headlined by Harry Connick Jr. and Kelli O’Hara. The baseball-themed Faust riff Damn Yankees returned in 1994 with Victor Garber and Bebe Neuwirth. The show also was staged as part of the Encores! Summer Stars series in 2008, with Sean Hayes and Jane Krakowski.
George Abbott and Stanley Donen co-directed a 1957 screen version of Pajama Game, starring Doris Day and John Raitt. The same directors reteamed on the film of Damn Yankees, released the following year, with Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston. Those two musicals spawned a number of top 10 hits, but the creative partnership was cut short when Ross died of lung disease in 1955 at age 29.
Adler was nominated for another Tony for Kwamina in 1962, but his subsequent Broadway work never matched those back-to-back successes. However, teaming with Robert Allen, he wrote a hit for Day in 1958 with “Everybody Loves a Lover.” A member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Adler also composed symphonic works and ballets.
During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Adler staged and produced a number of presidential entertainments, including the legendary 1962 birthday bash at which President Kennedy was serenaded by Marilyn Monroe, singing her immortal “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
Adler, who was born Aug. 3, 1921, in New York City, is survived by his wife, Susan A. Ivory; three of his four children; and three grandchildren.
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