His name was Howard Ashman.
He had a glowing Broadway career before fate intervened.
He worked his way up the showbiz ladder during the mid-1970s and a decade later, he had not only created award-winning musicals, but had found a perfect professional partnership with composer Alan Menkin. Together, with Alan writing the music and Howard creating deliciously witty lyrics, they won awards and dazzled Broadway audiences with spectacular musicals, such as Little Shop of Horrors and Smile.
While the two 30-somethings were enjoying their theatrical success in New York City, there was drama brewing across the country.
Disney executives in Hollywood were panicking. The company seemed to be a sinking ship, with one box office disappointment after another. Ever since Walt Disney's death, the company had been struggling to maintain its magic. In the 1980s, especially, they watched in dismay as their animated movies, like The Great Mouse Detective, were overshadowed by films like An American Tail and Land Before Time, both which were created by a former Disney employee.
Fast action was required. Disney executives turned their attention to a project, which had been tossed around since the 1930s. It was called The Little Mermaid. They wanted catchy Broadway-like songs to be the focus.
So, Howard and Alan were brought on board to liven things up.
The two immediately got to work, creating songs that mesmerized studio execs. They even brought in one of their former Broadway stars, Jodi Benson, to voice Ariel.
(Below is iconic footage of Howard guiding Jodi during the recording of "Part of Your World.")
At the time, they were just having fun. The two men had absolutely no idea they were creating Hollywood history.
But when The Little Mermaid was released, they finally realized their lives had changed forever.
Not only was the film a humongous box office smash and insane commercial success, it put Disney back on top. It won Howard and Alan two Academy Awards for best score and best song ("Under the Sea").
But the happiness was short-lived.
Three days after the ceremony, the two men were sitting in Howard's cottage, which he shared with his lover, an architect. Howard revealed to Alan that he was HIV positive. He had been diagnosed during the making of the Little Mermaid. Alan was devastated for his friend.
They also knew they needed to beat the clock to finish their latest project, Beauty and the Beast. Disney flew out their animators to New York to work with Howard. At first, the animators were annoyed because they thought Howard was just being a big shot, having them fly out to him. But when they arrived, it quickly became clear that Howard was seriously ill.
When his eyesight failed, Disney hired somebody to read for him. Within months, they had a speakerphone hooked up next to his bed. Despite his difficulties, Howard never stopped working.
When Disney executives held the first screening of Beauty and the Beast, they were stunned. The film completely blew them away. They visited Howard in the hospital, to tell him the great news, and were saddened to see he didn't have much time left. He was down to 80 pounds, had lost all his sight, and could barely speak. But he smiled when he heard the movie was going to be a huge success.
He died of AIDS at the age of 40, several months before Beauty and the Beast was released in theaters.
His second Academy Award was accepted by his grieving lover.
Before his death, Howard had written a few songs for his next project Aladdin. Those songs, "Arabian Nights," "Friend Like Me," and "Prince Ali" were all used in the film.
Years after his death, Disney would go on to have even more phenomenal success with Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and Mulan.
Alan has also continued to have enviable success. He would go on to compose even more Disney films (most recently, Tangled) and win a record eight Academy Awards. Most recently, he was nominated for a Tony for his production of Sister Act The Musical. He is considered one of the most powerful and iconic figures in musical theater history.
Needless to say, his old friend Howard would be proud.
Although he has been dead for more than two decades, Howard's legacy has never been stronger.
His sister keeps a twitter, tumblr, and blog in his honor. And fans all over the world have fan sites and Facebook pages dedicated to him.
After all, your star doesn't just fade away after you become part of the world's childhood.