George David Weiss, Broadway Composer and Pop Songwriter, Dies at 89

Obituaries   George David Weiss, Broadway Composer and Pop Songwriter, Dies at 89
George David Weiss, the author of such songs as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "What a Wonderful World," and the composer of a few lesser-known Broadway musicals, died of natural causes at his home in Oldwick, NJ, on Aug. 23. He was 89.

A few of Mr. Weiss' mid-20th-century compositions were widely known and recorded, including "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," which he adapted from a South African Zulu song. The turn, given new English lyrics, was a No. 1 hit for The Tokens in 1961. Twelve years later, the song scored again, with singer Robert John taking it to number three on the charts. It has since been used in many films, notably "The Lion King," and usually in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

His partners on that song were Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore. The trio also penned "Can't Help Falling in Love," a hit ballad for Elvis Presley in 1961. "What a Wonderful World," written by Mr. Weiss and Bob Thiele, was recorded by Louis Armstrong, but didn't become a standard until the tune was used in the soundtrack of the 1987 film "Good Morning, Vietnam."

The New York City-born Mr. Weiss' Broadway career was less celebrated. His most recognizable title was Mr. Wonderful, a 1956 musical comedy that basically served as a showcase for the talents of Sammy Davis, Jr. Mr. Weiss collaborated with pre-Sheldon-Harnick Jerry Bock and Larry Holofcener on both the music and lyrics. It ran for a year. First Impressions, an musical adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice," which opened in 1959, and on which he worked with Robert Goldman and Glenn Paxton, wasn't nearly as successful, playing only a few months.

The 1960 play Send Me No Flowers contained his and Will Lorin's title song. Mr. Weiss' last Broadway work, a collaboration with Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, came in 1968. Maggie Flynn starred Shirley Jones as an Irish woman providing asylum for orphaned children of runaway slaves during the 1863 New York Draft Riots. Jones' real-life spouse, Jack Cassidy, co-starred. Critics found the show dull and improbable, however, and it ran two months.

Mr. Weiss was born to a Jewish family in New York. He originally planned a career as a lawyer or accountant, but eventually attended the Juilliard School of Music. After leaving school, he became an arranger for such big bands as those of Stan Kenton, Vincent Lopez and Johnny Richards.

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