His goddaughter Jane Dorian confirmed his death to The Associated Press early on Friday.
His official Twitter account also posted the news:
We are heartbroken to share the news of the passing of the great Jerry Herman, friend, colleague and legend. His music will live forever.
— Jerry Herman (@Jerry_Herman) December 27, 2019
Herman died of pulmonary complications in Miami, where he had been living with his partner, real estate broker Terry Marler.
The creator of 10 Broadway shows and a contributor to several more, Herman won two Tony Awards for best musical: Hello, Dolly! in 1964 and La Cage aux. Folles in 1983.
He also won two Grammys – for the Mame cast album and was a Kennedy Center honoree.
He had three original Broadway productions playing at the same time from February 1969 to May 1969.
Tributes poured in on Friday from Broadway royalty, including from Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book of La Cage aux. Folles alongside Herman’s songs.
“We lost one of the greats,” Fierstein tweeted. “A collaborator and friend for almost 40 years. I cannot thank him enough for his love, trust, encouragement, support and laughter.”
Jerry Herman lost his hard fought battle last night and we lost one of the greats. A collaborator and friend for almost 40 years, I cannot thank him enough for his love, trust, encouragement, support and laughter. Well done, Mr Herman. Bravo! pic.twitter.com/QYws9jQu6h
— Harvey Fierstein (@HarveyFierstein) December 27, 2019
Writer and host Seth Rudetsky honoured Herman for writing “quintessential Broadway songs. Beautiful melodies and fantastic lyrics.”
Herman wrote in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition, an optimistic composer at a time when others in his profession were exploring darker feelings and material.
Herman also had a direct, simple sense of melody and his lyrics had a natural, unforced quality.
In 1983 his hit La Cage aux. Folles, a sweetly radical musical of its age, decades before the fight for marriage equality, was a lavish adaptation of the successful French film about two gay men who own a splashy, drag nightclub on the Riviera.
It contained the gay anthem “I Am What I Am” and ran for some 1760 performances.
“I Am What I Am” was both a hit and a vindication of gay people everywhere at the height of the AIDS crisis — long before “Born This Way”.
In the 1989s, in the middle of the AIDS crisis, Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein wrote a musical about drag queens. More importantly he wrote about gay men & family. I Am What I Am is an LGBTQ anthem. https://t.co/Wwo5Lj2zO4
— Emily Clark (@emilyabclark) December 27, 2019
In accepting the Tony in 1984 for La Cage Aux Folles, Herman said, “This award forever shatters a myth about the musical theatre. There’s been a rumour around for a couple of years that the simple, hummable show tune was no longer welcome on Broadway. Well, it’s alive and well at the Palace” Theatre.
Playwright Paul Rudnick on Friday praised Herman for providing “such joy.”
And director and choreographer Matthew Bourne said Herman’s “feel-good shows full of melody and joy will live forever.”
Breaking News: Jerry Herman, the Broadway composer-lyricist who gave the world the classic musicals “Hello, Dolly!,” “Mame” and “La Cage aux Folles,” has died. He was 88. https://t.co/RkaClgTHKu
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 27, 2019
Herman was born in New York in 1931 and raised in Jersey City.
His parents ran a children’s summer camp in the Catskills and he taught himself the piano.
He noted that when he was born, his mother had a view of Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre marquee from her hospital bed.
Herman dated his intention to write musicals to the time his parents took him to Annie Get Your Gun and he went home and played five of Irving Berlin’s songs on the piano.
After graduating from the University of Miami, Herman headed back to New York, writing and playing piano in a jazz club.
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He made his Broadway debut in 1960 but it was Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing in 1964 that ran for 2844 performances, becoming Broadway’s longest-running musical at the time, that put him on the map.
It won 10 Tonys and has been revived many times, most recently in 2017 with Bette Midler in the title role, a 19th-century widowed matchmaker who learns to live again. The film version starred Barbra Streisand.
Mame followed in 1966, starring Angela Lansbury, and went on to run for over 1500 performances.
She handed him his Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2009, saying he created songs like him: “bouncy, buoyant and optimistic.”
Many of his songs have outlasted their original showcases: British ice skaters Torvill and Dean used the overture from the flop Mack and Mabel to accompany a gold medal-winning routine in 1982.
Writer-director Andrew Stanton used the Herman tunes “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment” to express the psyche of a love-starved, trash-compacting robot in the film WALL-E.
Later in life, Herman contributed music to TV and wrote his autobiography, Showtune.
He is survived by his partner, Marler, and his goddaughters – Dorian and Dorian’s own daughter, Sarah Haspel. Dorian said plans for a memorial service are still in the works for the man whose songs she said “are always on our lips and in our hearts.”