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Robert Sherman, writer of 'It's a Small World' and other Disney music, dies at 86

Robert Sherman, left, stands with Debbie Reynolds and his brother Richard at the 1965 Academy Awards, where the Shermans won an Oscar for writing songs for Mary Poppins.

Associated Press

Robert Sherman, left, stands with Debbie Reynolds and his brother Richard at the 1965 Academy Awards, where the Shermans won an Oscar for writing songs for Mary Poppins.

You are about to have a deceptively devilish song re-lodged in your brain, one you prayed would never be stuck up there again.

Robert B. Sherman, the genial mad genius who co-wrote Disney's It's a Small World (After All), has died.

All together now: There is just one moon and one golden sun …

That earworm is his legacy. Walt Disney called Mr. Sherman, who died Monday (March 5, 2012) at age 86, and his brother Richard "the Boys." Together, they wrote more than 150 songs for Disney's movies and parks. Alas, the following will also be stuck in your head today — and, let's be honest, most of tomorrow:


A Spoonful of Sugar

Winnie the Pooh

I Wan'na Be Like You

The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room

It's somewhat fitting that a few days after we celebrated the 108th birthday of that swizzle-tongued Dr. Seuss we now acknowledge men who also took the English dictionary and threw it in the blender. For any wily writer in love with alliteration, they proved divine defense.

Robert Sherman died in London, where he spent his final years. He fell in love with Britain while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, when he was one of the first American soldiers to enter the Dachau concentration camp. He was shot in the knee in 1945 in Germany and recuperated in England.

The cause of death was not disclosed, but Mr. Sherman's son Jeffrey wrote on his Facebook page that his father "went peacefully." Richard M. Sherman, 83, also survives his brother and recently contributed music to Iron Man 2.

For all the Tigger bounce and Cockney cheer the Sherman brothers created — they were inspired by their father, Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman — they were estranged for a number of years, but never completely broke ties. Richard Sherman once said: "We're human. We have frailties and weaknesses."

To Uncle Walt, they proved invaluable, gifted melodists who helped his animation and live-action flicks of the '60s and '70s become classics: The Parent Trap, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Winnie the Pooh. By soundtracking rides such as the Carousel of Progress and the Enchanted Tiki Room, they were equally instrumental in helping his theme parks become the most visited tourist attractions on the planet. Love it or loathe it, the It's a Small World boat trip is featured at all five Disney parks around the globe.

Of park employees who have to hear It's a Small World — the most played tune in the world — on an endless loop, Mr. Sherman once joked: "We've driven teenagers crazy in every language."

Most famously, the Sherman boys won two Academy Awards for Disney's 1964 epic Mary Poppins, about the magical English nanny: best score and best song for Chim Chim Cher-ee, the rather melancholic ballad performed by Bert (Dick Van Dyke), the chimney sweep.

"He once told us, early on in our career, 'Don't insult the kid' — don't write down to the kid," Richard said about Walt's songwriting guidance. "And don't write just for the adult. So we write for grandpa and the 4-year-old — and everyone in between."

The Shermans' tuneful legacy inspired Disney's animation renaissance in the late '80s and '90s, when composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman made sure The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast sounded as good as they looked.

About the Shermans, Menken said: "There is a magic in their songs and in the films and musicals they breathed life into."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.


Robert B. Sherman

• Robert Bernard Sherman was born in New York City on Dec. 19, 1925.

• His father, Al Sherman, was a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, whose biggest hit was gridiron anthem You Gotta Be a Football Hero.

• In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded the Sherman Brothers the National Medal of Arts.

Sherman Brothers major movie scores

The Parent Trap (1961)

Mary Poppins (1964), including Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, A Spoonful of Sugar, Chim Chim Cher-ee, Feed the Birds

The Jungle Book (1967)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

The Aristocats (1970)

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Snoopy, Come Home (1972)

Tom Sawyer (1973)

Charlotte's Web (1973)

The Slipper and the Rose (1976)

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

The Magic of Lassie (1978)

The Tigger Movie (2000)

Other songs

It's a Small World (After All)

You're Sixteen, a hit for Ringo Starr.

Tall Paul, for ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello

Robert Sherman, writer of 'It's a Small World' and other Disney music, dies at 86 03/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 9:15pm]
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