Norman Gimbel, an Oscar and Grammy-winning composer whose lyrics graced hit songs such as Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song” and Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” died at the age of 91 on December 19 at his longtime home in Montecito, Calif.
His death was confirmed by BMI, which paid tribute on its website, noting: “BMI was greatly saddened to learn of the passing of renowned songwriter Norman Gimbel, a truly prolific and gifted writer who will be greatly missed by his many friends and fans here.”
The Brooklyn native wrote the words to both “The Girl from Ipanema” and the “Happy Days” theme, earning an Academy Award with David Shire for Jennifer Warnes’ “It Goes Like It Goes,” the Best Original Song winner for 1979’s “Norma Rae,” which also garnered Sally Field her first of two Best Actress Oscars.
With his longtime writing collaborator Charles Fox, Gimbel’s lyrics to Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” earned them the Song of the Year Grammy in 1973. The chart-topper was covered years later by the Fugees in a hip-hop version.
Croce’s “I Got a Name,” released the day after his death in a plane crash in September, 1973, was yet another Gimbel-Fox creation.
In their 30-year partnership, Gimbel and Fox wrote more than 150 songs together, earning Oscar nominations for Olivia Newton-John’s “Richard’s Window” (from 1975’s “The Other Side of the Mountain”) and Barry Manilow’s “Ready to Take a Chance Again” (from 1978’s comedy “Foul Play’).
In addition to “Happy Days,” Gimbel and Fox also wrote the themes for such TV shows as Garry Marshall’s “Laverne & Shirley” (“Making Our Dreams Come True”), “Paper Chase,” “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and “Wonder Woman.”
The 1984 Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee’s English lyrics for “The Girl from Ipanema,” made the Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz standard an international sensation and one of the most covered songs of all time, winning the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965.
Born in Brooklyn, Nov. 16, 1927, Gimbel worked for music publishers David Blum and Edwin H. Morris, writing the words to Teresa Brewer’s hit “Ricochet Romance” and Andy Williams’ 1956 chart-topper, “Canadian Sunset.”
He also collaborated with Broadway composer Morris “Moose” Charlap on the musicals “Whoop-Up” in 1958 and “The Conquering Hero,” with a book by Larry Gelbart, in 1961, after a stint with Frank Loesser, who wrote the currently controversial, “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
In the ‘60s, Gimbel provided English translations to music by Brazilian composers like Antonio Carlos Jobim, then for Michel Legrand’s 1964 musical “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” an acknowledged major influence on Damien Chazelle’s celebrated “La La Land.”
When Gimbel moved to the west coast in 1967, he worked with composers including Lalo Shifrin, Elmer Bernstein, Bill Conti, Quincy Jones, Burt Bachrach and Nelly Gimbel, his daughter.
His songs were heard in films like “The Phantom Tollbooth” (1970), “Where’s Poppa?” (1970), “A Troll in Central Park” (1994) and “Lady and the Tramp 2: Scamp’s Adventure” (2001).
Gimbel is survived by his sons Tony and Peter and daughters Nelly and Hannah. Tony has overseen his father’s Normans Music Publishing Co. (now Words West LLC) for the past 25 years.