‘What a Wonderful World’ songwriter dies

George David Weiss wrote pop hits used by Elvis and Sammy Davis Jr.

George David Weiss, who authored such signature pop songs as Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” died Aug. 23 of natural causes in Oldwick, N.J. He was 89.

His passing was acknowledged in a post on the Web site of the Songwriters Guild of America, where he formerly served as president.

Weiss studied at the Juilliard School of Music before working as an arranger for the bands of Stan Kenton and Vincent Lopez.

His early stage efforts included the music for Sammy Davis Jr.’s 1956 Broadway vehicle “Mr. Wonderful.” His later legit shows included “First Impressions” and “Maggie Flynn.”

In 1961, Weiss co-authored “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” an adaptation of the French standard “Plaisir d’Amour,” with producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore. Included on the soundtrack for Presley’s film “Blue Hawaii,” it rose to No. 2 on the national charts; Presley used it in later years as a closer for his live shows.

Weiss, Peretti and Creatore also collaborated on an adaptation of South African musician Solomon Linda’s “Mbube.” The Americanized version, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” became a hit in successive versions by the Tokens, England’s Karl Denver and Robert John. After Disney used the song in the feature “The Lion King,” Linda’s estate sued the studio; an out-of-court settlement was reached in 2006.

Penned with producer-writer Bob Thiele, “What a Wonderful World” was not a success for Armstrong on its initial single release in 1968. However, it reached the top 40 in 1988 after it was used in the pic “Good Morning Vietnam,” and became a standard thanks to constant employment in films, TV and advertising.

Weiss’ other well-known compositions included “Lullabye of Birdland” (written with jazz pianist George Shearing), “Wheel of Fortune” (a 1952 smash for Kay Starr) and “Stay With Me” (a memorable vehicle for R&B singer Lorraine Ellison, penned with producer-writer Jerry Ragavoy).

His other screen credits included the Disney cartoon features “Melody Time” and “Fun and Fancy Free,” Presley’s “Wild in the Country,” “Gidget Goes to Rome” and “Murder Inc.”

Weiss’ survivors include wife Claire.

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