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Oscar-winning lyricist Marilyn Bergman has died at 93

Marilyn Bergman (L) with her husband and partner in lyric-writing, Alan Bergman (R)
Mark Davis
Getty Images
Marilyn Bergman (L) with her husband and partner in lyric-writing, Alan Bergman (R)

The Oscar-winning lyricist Marilyn Bergman has died. Along with her husband, Alan, the Bergmans were a renowned music-writing duo whose hits included "The Windmills of Your Mind," "The Way We Were" and the score for Yentl.

Marilyn Bergman died at her home in Los Angeles on Saturday. She was 93. According to her representatives at Sunshine Sachs, the cause was respiratory failure (non-COVID related). Her husband Alan and daughter Julie Bergman were at her side.

The list of artists who recorded songs by Marilyn and Alan Bergman is a veritable who's who of American popular music, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney and Ray Charles. In 2011, Barbra Streisand paid tribute to the Bergmans with the Grammy-nominated album What Matters Most.

Among the dozens of songs whose lyrics they penned together are "Nice and Easy," "How Do You Keep the Music Playing," "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?", and theme songs to hit TV shows Good Times, Alice and Maude.

Early in her career, Marilyn was one of the few women songwriters to achieve major success. In 1985, she became the first woman elected to the Board of Directors of the American Society of Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

Marilyn Bergman described how she and her husband worked together in a 2007 interview with WHYY's Fresh Air: "When we write, we sing as we write. Because lyrics, unlike poetry, are meant to be sung. So he's always sung and most of the time it's Alan, who would demonstrate the song for the artist or the producer, director, whoever was on the receiving end of the song."

The couple collaborated with such composers as Marvin Hamlisch, Michel Legrand, Henry Mancini, Dave Grusin and Quincy Jones. Jones, with whom the Bergmans collaborated on songs for the 1967 movie In The Heat of The Night starring the late Sidney Poitier, paid tribute to the legendary lyricist in tweets.

"My dear, dear, beautiful Marilyn Bergman, to lose you this morning, so close to our brother Sidney, is just crushing me. You, along with your beloved Alan, were the epitome of Nadia Boulanger's belief that 'an artist can never be more or less than they are as a human being," Jones wrote. He continued: "The secret weapon to your songwriting...the unconditional love in your heart for your family, friends, and community. Your lyrics an extension of your being."

ASCAP President and Chairman, songwriter Paul Williams writes, "It is with deep sadness that I personally, and all of ASCAP, mourn the passing of Marilyn Bergman — one of the greatest lyricists who ever lived and truly ASCAP royalty. She was a brilliant songwriter who together with her husband, Alan Bergman, gave us some of the most beautiful and enduring lyrics of all time. She was a tireless and fierce advocate for music creators not only during her term as President and Chairman of ASCAP but throughout her life. Our community will miss her intelligence, her wit and her wisdom. Alan — we mourn with you and your family."

In addition to her husband, Alan, Marilyn is survived by their daughter and son-in-law Julie Bergman and iLan Azoulai, and her granddaughter, Emily Sender.

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.