Howard Ashman

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Howard Elliot Ashman (May 17, 1950 - March 14, 1991) was a lyricist and film producer who’s most notable work was for early Disney Renaissance films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.

Early life

Ashman was born to a Jewish family in Baltimore, Maryland, and despite his father’s efforts, he was more of a fan of storytelling rather than playing baseball or going fishing. Ashman was always a fan of music as he often played Peter Pan, and was in an Aladdin play. After one year at Boston University, he transferred to Goddard College which was one of the most popular schools in the United States for hippies. There, he found his first butt buddy in Stuart White at a summer program. The two did a lot of work on stage plays, but White died of AIDS in 1983.


Ashman worked on a lot of plays, including a 1982 play with Alan Menken called “Little Shop of Horrors” which was based off the Roger Corman film from 1960. It was popular enough for Frank Oz to adapt it into a film in 1986, with Ashman writing the script. Also in 1986, his play “Smile” made it to Broadway, but didn’t last long. It was around that time when Disney Studio Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg hired Ashman to be a lyricist, and he accepted. After writing a song in “Oliver and Company,” he was tasked with “The Little Mermaid” where he served as co-producer with John Musker. He brought in Jodi Benson who starred in “Smile” to voice the main character in Ariel. The movie was a major success, and it won two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song “Under the Sea” with “Kiss the Girl” also receiving a nomination.

After that night, Ashman brought Menken into his home in New York, and told him he was sick, as he tested positive for HIV, and that’s why he didn’t show up often to recording sessions in California. He was also worried that had his diagnosis been made public, he would have been fired. Afterwards, everyone at Disney was informed, and he kept his job. He worked on “Aladdin,” but was tasked to due “Beauty and the Beast” where he served as an executive producer. Like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” was a major success, and won Best Original Score and Best Original Song “Beauty and the Beast” with two other songs “Belle” and “Be Our Guest” also getting nominations. However, he died before the movie came out. The film is dedicated to him, and at the end of the credits, the film reads “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950-1991”

Most of his “Aladdin” songs were cut due to changes made to the story, which he had no say in due to being dead. However, “Proud of Your Boy” was revived for the 2011 Broadway show.


Ashman was an open homosexual, and was given the job to write songs in children’s movies. Many thought Ashman’s personal life influenced the songs in his movies, with the most notable being “Part of Your World,” “The Mob Song,” “Proud of Your Boy,” and “Humiliate the Boy” however, the latter two were cut. “Beauty and the Beast” producer Don Hahn said Ashman did put his AIDS influence in “The Mob Song” as he viewed Gaston leading the mob to kill the Beast were ignorant Christians, but Sarah Gillespie (Ashman’s younger sister) denies this, and any accusations made against her older brother in his work at Disney.


In 2018, Hahn made a documentary called Howard which told the story of Howard Ashman, from his early life, to his work at Disney. It was private at first, but got released to Disney+ in 2020.