Johnny Mandel, the Oscar and Grammy-winning composer who wrote the M*A*S*H theme song , has died at the age of 94. According to The New York Times, Mandel’s daughter Marissa confirmed that he passed away on Monday (June 29th) at his home in Ojai, California.
Mandel was born in New York City on November 23rd, 1925. His father was a garment manufacturer and his mother was an opera singer who noticed early on that her son had perfect pitch. After picking up trumpet and trombone as a child, Mandel would go on to study at both the Manhattan School of Music and New York’s esteemed Juilliard School. In the 1940s, he played the aforementioned brass instruments in groups with jazz greats like Joe Venuti, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich, June Christy, and many others.
Although Mandel was a well-known ensemble player in jazz circles, it wasn’t until he branched out into arranging music in the ’50s and ’60s that he’d really make a name for himself in the industry at large. In the ’50s, he arranged music for Sid Caesar’s TV series Your Show of Shows, and he wrote songs for Frank Sinatra that were some of the earliest releases on Reprise Records, the label Sinatra founded in 1960.
Shortly thereafter, Mandel composed theme songs for the 1964 film The Americanization of Emily and the 1965 film The Sandpiper, winning Academy Awards and Grammys for both of them. In the ’80s and ’90s he scored more Grammy Awards for arranging music for Quincy Jones (“Velas”, 1981), Natalie and Nat King Cole (“Unforgettable”, 1991), and Shirley Horn (Here’s to Life, 1992).
Throughout his career, he also wrote songs for the likes of Tony Bennett, Count Basie, Barbra Streisand, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, and others. He also scored films including Caddyshack and Freaky Friday. However, Mandel is best known for composing “Suicide Is Painless”, the iconic theme song for the 1970 film M*A*S*H and its subsequent TV series. While Mandel wrote the music, which was re-recorded in various instrumental versions for the show, it was actually 15-year-old Mike Altman, son of the movie’s director Robert Altman, who penned the lyrics.
On social media, Mandel was remembered fondly by friends like Michael Feinstein and Tony Bennett, as well as crooner Michael Bublé, who lovingly called him “a beast”. M*A*S*H star Alan Alda also thanked Mandel for “your melodies. And for one in particular that’s engraved in our hearts.” Mandel’s late wife, Martha Blanner, died in December, but he’s survived by his daughter Marissa Mandel.
Purchase the full M*A*S*H soundtrack, which features Mandel’s iconic theme, here.
I was so sad to learn that a hero of mine, Johnny Mandel, passed away. He was a genius and one of my favorite writers, arrangers, and personalities.
He was a beast.
RIP Johnny. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/RgD64XN5wk
— Michael Bublé (@MichaelBuble) June 30, 2020
If Johnny Mandel had just composed “The Shadow of Your Smile” – one of the most beautiful songs I have been honored to record – it would have been enough to earn his standing as one of the finest composers of our time. pic.twitter.com/20TCwAJ7oU
— Tony Bennett (@itstonybennett) June 30, 2020
Johnny Mandel, thank you for your melodies. And for one in particular that's engraved in our hearts.
— Alan Alda (@alanalda) June 30, 2020