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Joel Hirschhorn, 67; Songwriter Won Two Oscars for Movie Themes

Times Staff Writer

Joel Hirschhorn, the songwriter who shared Academy Awards for theme songs in two catastrophe-oriented motion pictures, “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno,” has died. He was 67.

Hirschhorn, who lived in Agoura Hills, died early Sunday of a heart attack at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, his wife, documentary producer Jennifer Carter Hirschhorn, said Monday. She said Hirschhorn had fallen Friday night and broken his shoulder.

His songs, recorded by artists including Elvis Presley, have sold more than 90 million records, and his music accents a score of motion pictures.

Along with longtime collaborator Al Kasha, Hirschhorn won his first Oscar in 1973 for “The Morning After” from the “Poseidon” movie about a luxury cruise ship capsized by a huge wave.

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The duo earned a second statuette two years later for their song “We May Never Love Like This Again” from “The Towering Inferno,” a film about a conflagration in a high-rise building.

Hirschhorn and Kasha were nominated for two Oscars in 1977 -- for their original score for the Disney animated film “Pete’s Dragon” and for the song “Candle on the Water,” sung by Helen Reddy in that film.

Hirschhorn and Kasha, who originally met at Columbia Records, where Kasha was working as a producer, also found success on Broadway. They received two Tony Award nominations -- in 1981 for their score for the musical “Copperfield” and in 1983 for songs they added to a revival of the musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

They also wrote music for television series, including the children’s show “Kids Inc.” and the prime-time “Knots Landing.” In 1984, Hirschhorn earned a lyrics credit for “Side by Side,” the theme song of the late John Ritter sitcom “Three’s a Crowd.”

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Hirschhorn, who like Kasha wrote both music and lyrics, also penned several books. Teaming with Kasha, he published “If They Ask You, You Can Write a Song” in 1979, a collection originally titled “Notes on Broadway: Conversations With the Great Songwriters” in 1985 and “Reaching the Morning After” in 1986.

In reviewing “Notes on Broadway” for The Times in 1985, Donna Perlmutter criticized the duo for analyzing hairstyles of the composers they interviewed. Aside from that, she wrote, “the authors go straight to the heart of the musical matter, eliciting candid comments from interviewees on their own contributions to the genre as well as a general perspective on past and present Broadway, its inherent dilemmas and hopeful prospects.”

On his own, Hirschhorn wrote books including “Rating the Movie Stars for Home Video, TV, Cable” in 1985 and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Songwriting” in 2001.

With his wife, he wrote a book about an expedition that she led to recover artifacts from the sunken Titanic. The items were later put on display.

In 2001, the couple’s jointly written play “Musical Chairs” was performed at the El Portal Center for the Arts in North Hollywood.

Hirschhorn wrote columns, reviews and articles for Songwriter, Video Times and other publications, and for the last six years he had been a theater critic for Variety, the entertainment industry newspaper.

Born in the Bronx, N.Y., Hirschhorn graduated from High School for the Performing Arts and attended Hunter College. He worked as a nightclub singer and pianist and performed in the rock band the Highlighters before establishing himself as a songwriter.

In addition to his wife of 20 years, Hirschhorn is survived by her two sons, Kevin and Brent Carter; his mother, Evelyn Hirschhorn of Westlake Village; his sister, Madeleine Desjardins of Palm Desert; and a grandson.

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Funeral services are private, and a memorial service is pending.


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