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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One-half of a great American songwriting team has died. Richard Adler died yesterday at the age of 90. Adler and his longtime songwriting partner, Jerry Ross, were both composers and lyricists. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, they got their start with this 1953 hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAGS TO RICHES")

TONY BENNETT: (Singing) I know I'd go from rags to riches.

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

RICHARD ADLER: I went to the bathroom one day and, when I got in there, I decided I'm not leaving this room until I've written a song. There are certain things you can't write about in a bathroom. Then, all of a sudden, the radiator started clanging and hissing and I got the idea for "Steam Heat."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEAM HEAT")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Singing) Yeah. I got steam heat. I got steam heat. I got steam heat.

ULABY: Next, the two took on a musical about baseball, a sport Adler did not even enjoy. The result, "Damn Yankees."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAMN YANKEES")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Now, listen to me, you guys. This game of baseball is only one-half skill. The other half is something else, something bigger. (Singing) You've got to have heart. All you really need is heart.

ULABY: Just a few months after "Damn Yankees" opened in 1955, Jerry Ross died unexpectedly. He was only 29.

ADLER: I was devastated and I'm still devastated by it.

ULABY: That's Adler in 1990. Still, he rallied, wrote commercial jingles and, in 1962, he was hired to plan the most famous presidential birthday party ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY")

MARILYN MONROE: (Singing) Happy birthday to you.

ULABY: President John F. Kennedy told Adler that hiring Marilyn Monroe was a great idea, but Richard Adler will always be best remembered for the handful of great musicals he wrote with Jerry Ross and their songs, including "Whatever Lola Wants," "Hernandez Hideaway" and this song about yearning for someone who seems unattainable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY THERE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes.

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

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY THERE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Hey there, you...

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