Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were approached to write music for a Disney film of their choice. Ashman chose The Little Mermaid. They wrote the songs "Part of Your World", "Kiss the Girl", "Poor Unfortunate Souls", and "Under the Sea". Ashman not only wrote the music with Menken but he also served as the film's producer. Ashman also conducted Jodi Benson to sing Part of Your World right and he also dressed up as Ursula to show Pat Carroll how to sing "Poor Unfortunate Souls". Ashman and Menken won three Academy Awards for original songs in the movie in 1989.
Ashman and Menken were bought into team writing songs again for another Disney Movie called Beauty and the Beast which was early selected by Walt Disney in the 1940s and 50s but was scrapped when the animators couldn't find the right story. Walt's nephew Roy Edward Disney decided to give Beauty and the Beast another shot. Ashman and Menken wrote "Be Our Guest", "Gaston", and "Beauty and the Beast" and also a deleted song "Human Again". Since Beauty and the Beast was a musical Ashman chose many Broadway actors and actresses including Paige O'Hara, Jerry Orbach, and Angela Lansbury to voice the characters and he also coached them very well to sing the songs just perfectly.
When The Little Mermaid was almost done, Ashman and Menken pitched a treatment of the story of Aladdin, and wrote many songs. But after being asked to help out with Beauty and the Beast, Ashman reluctantly agreed. Three of Ashman's songs made it into the final version, Arabian Nights, Friend Like Me and Prince Ali. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker talked to Menken and Ashman about writing a song for the Magic Carpet ride but sadly didn't have the time to write it. Lyricist Tim Rice, who was working on a project known at the time as King of the Jungle, was asked to help finish the songs for Aladdin.
Death and Legacy
At the 1989 Oscars for Little Mermaid Ashman told Menken they needed to talk when they got home to New York City about something important that couldn't be mentioned at the Oscars. When they got back to Ashman's house in New York, Ashman told Menken that he was sick and was HIV positive, and revealed during the production of Beauty and the Beast that he had been diagnosed with AIDS which made him weaker everyday, but never stopped him from writing songs. Before he passed away, they showed him a finished version of Beauty and the Beast. He then died four days later on March 14, 1991, at a hospital in New York City, at the age of 40. Ashman never married, but he was survived by his life partner Bill Lauch, his sister Sarah Ashman-Gillespie, and his mom Shirley Ashman. Beauty and the Beast was dedicated to Ashman during the end credits reading:
TO OUR FRIEND, HOWARD,
WHO GAVE A MERMAID HER VOICE
AND A BEAST HIS SOUL,
WE WILL BE FOREVER GREATFUL.