Herman’s goddaughter, Jane Dorian, confirmed his death and said the cause was pulmonary complication. Herman had been living with his partner, Terry Marler, in Miami.
Herman’s oeuvre included 10 Broadway musicals that debuted between 1960 and 1998, while he also contributed music to several more shows. He won four Tonys, including Best Composer and Lyricist for Hello, Dolly!, Best Original Score for La Cage aux Folles, a special Lifetime Achievement in Theatre prize in 2009, and Best Revival of a Musical for Hello, Dolly! in 2017. Along the way, Herman also picked up two Grammys, Song of the Year in 1964 for the titular track from Hello, Dolly!, and Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album in 1966 for Mame. In 2010, he was named a Kennedy Center Honoree.
Herman rose to fame in the Sixties, when Broadway was beginning to embrace shows with heavier themes and music — but Herman’s style was reminiscent of Rodgers and Hammerstein and musical theater’s golden age of two decades prior. His melodies were infectious and simple, his lyrics often bursting with optimism and joy (“We can tell, Dolly/ You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’/ You’re still goin’ strong,” goes “Hello, Dolly!”).
While Herman didn’t necessarily position himself as an opponent of musical theater’s evolution and change, he was devoted to the core tenets of its golden age. When asked about the growing presence of rock in musicals in a 1969 interview with Broadway licenser, Tams-Witmark, Herman said, “Certainly rock has its place on the American musical stage, just as the next pop sound will have its place several years from now, but it’s the musical comedy writing that ignores today’s jukebox that remains classic and timeless.”
Herman was born in New York City in 1931 and raised in Jersey City. He taught himself to play the piano and started on his career path after his parents took him to see Annie Get Your Gun. He studied theater at the University of Miami, then returned to New York, where he worked as a musician and eventually debuted on Broadway with some songs he contributed to the 1960 revue, From A to Z. The following year, his first full show, Milk and Honey — about the founding of Israel — premiered and earned five Tony nominations, including Best Musical.
Three years later, Herman would score his first major hit with Hello, Dolly! The show cleaned up at the Tonys, winning 10 of the 11 awards it was nominated for, and it would run for almost seven years and 2,844 performances, making it the longest-running Broadway musical at the time. 1966’s Mame was another smash, winning three Tony Awards and running for 1,500 performances.
Over the next decade, Herman wrote three shows — 1969’s Dear World, 1974’s Mack & Mabel, and 1979’s The Grand Tour — that were well-received but struggled to last longer than a few months on Broadway. His next true hit didn’t come until 1983, with La Cage aux Folles — a revolutionary musical adaptation of a French play about a gay couple who run a drag nightclub, and a book by Harvey Fierstein. The show would run for over four years, pick up six Tonys, including Best Musical, and its big Act One finale, “I Am What I Am” would become a pride anthem.
As NPR notes, amidst the success of La Cage aux Folles, Herman’s longtime partner, Marty Finkelstein, died of complications from AIDS, and Herman was also diagnosed as HIV-positive. Though this was at the height of the AIDS crisis, Herman was able to stay alive thanks to a regimen of drugs, and over the years he worked diligently to raise money for AIDS research.
Herman effectively retired from Broadway after La Cage aux Folles, though he was behind a handful of revues featuring music from throughout his career, 1985’s Jerry’s Girls, 1998’s An Evening With Jerry Herman, and an off-Broadway show, Showtune. In 1996, Herman published his autobiography, also titled Showtune.