Jerry Herman, Composer of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage, Dies at 88

”Hello, Dolly!” held the record for most Tony wins from 1964 to 2001.

Jerry Herman, composer of Mame, Hello, Dolly!, and La Cage aux Folles, has died at 88.
Jerry Herman, composer of Mame, Hello, Dolly!, and La Cage aux Folles, has died at 88.
(© Joseph Marzullo)

Legendary Broadway composer Jerry Herman, whose hit musicals include Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles, died on December 26 in Miami. He was 88.

According to reports, he was taken to a Miami hospital on Thursday night after complaining of chest pains and died of pulmonary complications.

Herman was raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, by middle-class Jewish parents, who frequently took him to Broadway shows. He spent most of his summers at a camp in the Taconic Mountains where his parents worked, and Herman directed many of the shows the camp put on.

He went on to study theater at the University of Miami (transferring from Parsons School of Design) after being inspired by Frank Loesser to pursue composing. He produced his first show off-Broadway in 1954 — a musical revue titled I Feel Wonderful. He followed the project with two more musical revues titled Nightcap (1958) and Parade (1960).

Herman made his Broadway debut in 1960 with the musical revue A to Z, which featured contributions by Woody Allen, Mary Rodgers, Fred Ebb, among others. His first full Broadway musical, Milk and Honey (about the founding of the state of Israel), opened in 1961, closely followed by the off-Broadway musical Madame Aphrodite (a collaboration with Tad Mosel), which closed after only 13 performances.

Herman's big breakthrough came in 1964 with Hello, Dolly!, starring Carol Channing, which earned a record-breaking 10 Tony Awards, including one for Herman's score, besting Funny Girl. Hello, Dolly!'s record for Tony wins was not broken until 2001 when The Producers earned 12 awards.

In 1966, Herman opened Mame, which earned eight Tony nominations, including wins for both Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur. He followed that with Dear World (1969) starring Angela Lansbury, Mack & Mabel (1974) starring Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston, and The Grand Tour (1979) starring Joel Grey.

His groundbreaking musical La Cage aux Folles, centered around a gay couple and featuring drag performances, became his next hit in 1983. The show earned six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book (Harvey Fierstein), Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical (George Hearn), Best Costume Design (Theoni V. Aldredge), and Best Direction of a Musical (Arthur Laurents). The show went on to earn the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical for both of its revival productions in 2004 and 2010.

In 2017, Hello, Dolly! earned the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical as well, with a production starring Bette Midler (who earned a Tony for her performance as Dolly Levi) and directed by Jerry Zaks.

In 1996, Herman published his memoir, Showtune, which recounts his life in the theater as well as his battle with HIV, with which he was diagnosed in 1985.

In 2009, Herman was presented with a Special Tony Award For Lifetime Achievement, and in 2010, he was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor. He was additionally inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1986.

Herman is survived by his goddaughters Jane Dorian and Sarah Haspel, as well as his longtime partner Terry Marler.