‘Wonderful World’ songwriter George Weiss dies

  • Wed Aug 25th, 2010 10:26pm
  • News

Los Angeles Times

George David Weiss, a prolific songwriter who co-wrote “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “What a Wonderful World,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and many other pop hits, has died. He was 89.

Weiss, a former longtime president of the Songwriters Guild of America, died Monday of natural causes at his home in Oldwick, N.J.

During his heyday in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, Weiss co-wrote songs that were recorded by singers such as Frank Sinatra (“Oh! What It Seemed to Be”), Perry Como (“Surrender”), Patti Page (“Confess”), Kay Starr (“Wheel of Fortune”), Ella Fitzgerald (“Lullaby of Birdland”) and Nat “King” Cole (“That Sunday, That Summer”).

“Can’t Help Falling in Love,” with words and music by Weiss, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, was written for the 1961 Elvis Presley movie “Blue Hawaii.”

When new songs were being sought for the film, Weiss recalled in a 1992 interview with Daily Variety, Presley’s publishers “passed out scripts to 15-20 songwriters and said, ‘If you get in to the picture, good; if you don’t, too damn bad.’

“When the publishers heard ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love,’ there was a 20-second silence before one of them said, slowly, ‘That’s nice, but we want another ‘Hound Dog.’ “

“Can’t Help Falling in Love” became a big hit for Presley, who regularly sang the ballad in his later stage shows.

Weiss, Peretti and Creatore also shared credit on the 1961 song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which became a No. 1 hit for the Tokens.

The song was based on a 1939 South African hit called “Mbube” (Zulu for “Lion”) by Solomon Linda and performed by his group. In 1952, the American folk group the Weavers released an adapted version of the song entitled “Wimoweh.”

“I did some research and found out that the chant was connected to the lion,” Weiss told the Santa Fe New Mexican in 1995. “So I began to think, and I came up with the notion that the darn lion was sleeping tonight and nobody had to worry. And I incorporated the chant into the song and wrote some melodies and counter-melodies.”

Weiss teamed with Bob Thiele to write “What a Wonderful World,” which was recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1967 and later featured in the 1987 Robin Williams movie “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

In a 1995 interview with the Miami Herald, Weiss said that attempting to live out his mother’s dream that he become a lawyer led him to suffer what the newspaper characterized as a “nervous collapse.”

The matter was finally settled when his mother took him to a doctor, who said: “Mrs. Weiss, what would you rather have? A live bum of a musician or a dead lawyer?”