Songwriter George David Weiss, who helped pen Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” passed away from natural causes yesterday at his home in Oldwick, New Jersey. Weiss, who was 89, helped transform Solomon Linda’s 1939 song “Wimoweh” into the Tokens hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984, and served as president of the Songwriters Guild of America from 1982 to 2000.
Beyond writing songs performed by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Tom Jones and Janis Joplin (who covered “Stay With Me”), Weiss collaborated on several Broadway musicals and wrote film scores. In 2000, Rolling Stone traced the roots of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” from South African Zulu musician Solomon Linda’s original version “Mbube” (or “Lion”) to Pete Seeger’s rendition “Wimoweh” (Seeger misheard the opening refrain of “uyembube,” or “you’re a lion”), and then on to Weiss’ rewritten version “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which the Tokens made a hit. For more on the saga behind of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and the lawsuits that followed, check out our story “In the Jungle” via Rolling Stone All Access.