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Richard Adler, Broadway Composer And Lyricist, Dies

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One half of a great American songwriting team has died. Richard Adler died in Southampton, N.Y, yesterday at the age of 90. Adler and his songwriting partner, Jerry Ross, were composers and lyricists who got their start with a No. 1 hit in 1953, "Rags to Riches," sung by Tony Bennett.

From a single that sold over a million copies, Adler and Ross went on to write one of Broadway's best-loved musicals. Adler told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1990 that when they were working on The Pajama Game, he got the idea for one of its biggest songs in an unorthodox way.

"I went to the bathroom one day, and when I got in there I decided, 'I'm not leaving till I've written a song,' " he said. "Then all of a sudden the radiator started clanging and hissing, and I got the idea for steam heat."

The two next took on a musical about baseball, a sport Adler did not even enjoy. The result? Damn Yankees. Just a few months after it opened in 1955, Jerry Ross died unexpectedly. He was only 29.

Adler says he was devastated. But he rallied, wrote commercial jingles, and in 1962 was hired to plan the most famous presidential birthday party ever. President John F. Kennedy told Adler that hiring Marilyn Monroe was a great idea.

But Adler will always be best remembered for the handful of great musicals he wrote with Ross and songs like "Whatever Lola Wants," "Hernando's Hideaway" and "Hey There," about yearning for someone who seems unattainable

The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees are revived regularly on Broadway and all over the world. It's almost like they'll live forever.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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