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Leslie Bricusse Dies: Oscar-Winning ‘Doctor Dolittle’, ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Willy Wonka’ Songwriter Was 90

·3-min read

Leslie Bricusse, the songwriter for film and stage whose extensive roster of hits and standards includes “The Candy Man” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “Talk to the Animals” from Doctor Dolittle and “What Kind of Fool Am I?” from Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, died Tuesday. He was 90.

His death was announced today by son Adam Bricusse in a Facebook post. A cause of death was not specified.

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“My Dearest Father passed away peacefully this morning,” Adam Bricusse wrote. “Please raise a glass for him.”

“One the giant songwriters of our time,” wrote actress Joan Collins, his longtime friend and former wife of his songwriting partner Anthony Newley, in a Facebook post, “writer of #candyman #goldfinger amongst so many other hits, and my great friend Leslie Bricusse has sadly died today. He and his beautiful Evie have been in my life for over 50 years. I will miss him terribly, as will his many friends.”

Rex Harrison in “Doctor Dolittle” (1967) - Credit: Everett Collection
Rex Harrison in “Doctor Dolittle” (1967) - Credit: Everett Collection

Everett Collection

Known for his collaborations with Newley, Sammy Davis Jr., John Barry and Henry Mancini, Bricusse wrote or co-wrote such now-classic film or stage songs as “Goldfinger,” a hit for Shirley Bassey in 1964, and two hits sung by Davis including “The Candy Man” (from 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), and “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” (from 1961’s Broadway hit Stop the World – I Want to Get Off).

Bricusse won his first Oscar for 1967’s “Talk to the Animals” from Doctor Dolittle and his second for co-writing with Mancini the score for 1982’s Victor/Victoria, including that musical’s most popular song “Le Jazz Hot!”

A partial list of films with songs written or co-written by Bricusse also includes Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), Scrooge (1970), Beyond the Rainbow (1978) and Hook (1991). Broadway credits include Stop the World – I Want to Get Off (1961), Pickwick (1963), The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (1965), Jekyll & Hyde (1997) and the stage adaptations of Victor/Victoria (1995) and Willy Wonka, retitled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2017).

Born in Pinner, North West London, Bricusse attended Cambridge before embarking on a professional stage writing career that would begin in earnest with his 1961 collaboration with Newley, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. The score included what would become a massive hit and modern standard in “What Kind Of Fool Am I?,” recorded by Newley and, in the most popular version, Davis. The stage musical was adapted for film in 1966.

Subsequent collaborations with Newley included The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the latter featuring the breakout hit “The Candy Man,” which became, like “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” before it, a signature tune for Davis. “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1963.

Gene Wilder and the Oompa-Loompas in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) - Credit: Everett Collection
Gene Wilder and the Oompa-Loompas in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) - Credit: Everett Collection

Everett Collection

Bricusse co-wrote two songs for the James Bond franchise that became hits: “Goldfinger,” often considered the greatest of the Bond themes, and, in 1967, the title song “You Only Live Twice,” recorded by Nancy Sinatra. Two songs from Goodbye Mr. Chips became hits for Petula Clark: “Fill the World With Love” and “You and I.”

Other memorable film songs include “Thank You Very Much” from Scrooge and, with Mancini, “Two for the Road” from the 1967 movie of the same name. In another fruitful collaboration (with John Williams), Bricusse co-wrote “Can You Read My Mind” from Superman (1978), “Somewhere in My Memory” from Home Alone (1990), “When You’re Alone” from Hook (1991) and “Christmas at Hogwarts” from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001).

Among the performers who recorded Bricusse songs were Nina Simone, Maureen McGovern, Diana Krall, Frank Sinatra, Richard Harris and The Turtles, who recorded the title song for the 1967 ensemble comedy Guide for the Married Man.

Bricusse was Tony Award-nominated for Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, The Roar of Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd and the book of Jekyll & Hyde.

In addition to his son Adam, Bricusse is survived by wife Evie.

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