Al Kasha, who partnered with Joel Hirschhorn to write Oscar-winning songs such as “The Morning After,” a ballad for the disaster epic “The Poseidon Adventure” that became an unexpected pop hit, died Sept. 14 at a hospice center in Los Angeles. He was 83.
He had Parkinson’s disease, said his son-in-law, Randy Cohen.
For a brief period in the 1970s, Kasha’s poignant love songs seemed to herald nothing less than impending doom. Working with Hirschhorn, his longtime creative partner, he wrote the music and lyrics to songs for “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) and “The Towering Inferno” (1974), movies that established producer Irwin Allen as the “master of disaster” and earned the songwriting duo two Academy Awards for best song.
Kasha was already a seasoned songwriter and music producer before making his way to Hollywood in the late 1960s. A veteran of Manhattan’s Brill Building pop factory, he churned out songs that were recorded by artists including Elvis Presley (“Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet, Baby”), Charles Aznavour (“The Old Fashioned Way”), Aretha Franklin (“Operation Heartbreak”) and later Donna Summer (“I’m a Fire”).
Sensing more opportunity writing directly for the big screen, he and Hirschhorn wrote songs for Westerns, spy comedies and Presley musicals. They were given one night to write a song for “The Poseidon Adventure,” about an aged luxury liner capsized by a 90-foot wave.
Over a pot of strong coffee they wrote what became the movie’s theme, “The Morning After,” about “looking for the light” and waiting out “the storm.” (The original version titled, “Why Must There Be a Morning After?” was far more pessimistic.)
Performed on-screen by Carol Lynley, who played a singer forced to wade through the ship’s wreckage in hot pants and go-go boots, the film version was dubbed by singer Renée Armand. It was later released as a single by Maureen McGovern, then an unknown singer who had never been to a recording studio, and slowly climbed to the top of the Billboard charts after winning the Oscar in 1973.
A year later, McGovern played a lounge singer in “The Towering Inferno,” performing the Kasha-Hirschhorn song “We May Never Love Like This Again” shortly before a five-alarm fire was shown engulfing parts of the world’s tallest building. The movie grossed more than $100 million in the United States.
While Kasha’s music occasionally served as a counterpoint to catastrophe, he typically preferred lighter, family-friendly subjects. He and Hirschhorn wrote the “Freaky Friday” (1976) theme “I’d Like to Be You for a Day” and received two Oscar nominations for writing the score to “Pete’s Dragon” (1977), a Disney musical featuring a performance of their song “Candle on the Water” by Helen Reddy.
Trying to channel the success of “Oliver!” they also adapted Charles Dickens’ novel “David Copperfield” for Broadway, writing the book as well as the score. “Copperfield” ran for two weeks in 1981, with New York Times theater critic Frank Rich writing, “This is the kind of musical that sends you out of the theater humming every score other than the one you’ve just heard.”
Nonetheless, it earned Kasha and Hirschhorn the first of two Tony nominations for best score, including a nod for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” adapted from the 1954 movie musical. The 1982 production was helmed by Kasha’s older brother, Lawrence Kasha, a director and Tony-winning producer, but closed after five performances. (It was later revived twice on the West End.)
In turning to musicals, Kasha said he was responding to “tremendous complaints” from parents in search of family-friendly productions.
“I believe there’s a great need for that kind of entertainment,” he told the Deseret News in 1993.
By his own account, his childhood was sorely lacking in the kind of warmth and generosity that he wanted to bring to the stage. Born in Brooklyn on Jan. 22, 1937, he was raised by a barber father, “a violent alcoholic” who would lock him in a closet and once went after him with a knife, and a beautician mother whom he dubbed “the East Coast distributor of guilt.”
In “Reaching the Morning After” (1986), one of several books he co-wrote with Hirschhorn, Kasha said his relationship with his parents contributed to years of crippling agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces. He found a refuge from his parents in entertainment, working as an extra at the old Vitagraph movie studio across the street from his home.
He also began singing and writing songs, including “Irresistible You,” which marked his first major success when it was recorded by Bobby Darin in 1961. Soon after, he met Hirschhorn while working as a producer at Columbia Records.
“We were really one,” Kasha told the Ventura County Star after Hirschhorn’s death in 2005. “I could finish his line, he could finish mine. He was more than a gifted composer, he was my best friend. We had a style, a kind of respect and politeness working together.”
Their later work included “Love Survives,” from the animated movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven” (1989), and songs for the long-running soap opera “Knots Landing.”
Kasha, who was born Jewish, also focused on spiritual music, writing musicals inspired by the life and poetry of Ching Hai, a Vietnamese spiritual leader known as Supreme Master. Some of his songs reflected his turn toward Christianity, which began during a period of intense agoraphobia in the late 1970s.
He became an ordained minister and, together with his wife, Ceil, founded a church known as Oasis Christian Fellowship. Their ministry grew out of a weekly Bible study the Kashas hosted at home, meeting with actors, dancers and, in Kasha’s telling, Bob Dylan, who was then on the verge of a gospel music phase.
“He wrote his whole entire ‘Slow Train Coming’ album in front of our fireplace,” Kasha told journalist Dan Wooding. “We gave him a key to the house because we were songwriters and songwriters feel a sense of spirit in a room. ... I heard the guitar playing some nights, but I wouldn’t bother him.”
In addition to his wife of 52 years, Kasha is survived by a daughter, Dana Kasha-Cohen, and a grandson, all of Los Angeles.
Kasha worked at times as a producer and screenwriter, including as a co-writer of “Old Faithful” (1973), a TV movie starring Zero Mostel as a park ranger. But he rarely strayed from songwriting for too long, contributing music to the animated movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1998) and the musical “In a Booth at Chasen’s” (2018), which chronicled the Hollywood romance of Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan.
“Being a songwriter is a great, great blessing in life,” he once told Life After 50, a California magazine. “So when I get down on myself, like all human beings do, I say, ‘I’m bringing someone joy in some town, some city, some high school.’ ... I take all my music very seriously because I know how it can change a person’s life. I really believe that.”