Friday, December 6, 2013
Mark Kennedy / The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Marvin Hamlisch was blessed with perfect pitch and an infallible ear. "I heard sounds that other children didn't hear," he wrote in his autobiography.
An undated photo award-winning composer and conductor Marvin Hamlisch.
AP / Columbia Artists Management Inc. LLC
Composer Marvin Hamlisch, left, and Barbra Streisand in a Nov. 8, 2011, photo. Hamlisch wrote the song "The Way We Were," which became a huge hit for Streisand.
He turned that skill into writing and arranging compulsively memorable songs that the world was unable to stop humming — from the mournful "The Way We Were" to the jaunty theme from "The Sting."
Prolific and seeming without boundaries, Hamlisch, who died at 68 after a short illness, composed music for film heroes from James Bond and Woody Allen, for powerful singers such as Liza Minnelli and Aretha Franklin, and high-kicking dancers of the Tony-winning "A Chorus Line." To borrow one of his song titles, nobody did it better.
"I'm shocked by the loss of a great colleague, as is everyone in the theater and film business and every corner of the arts where song and score matter to people," said Alan Menken, the Academy- and Tony Award-winning composer. "The fraternity of songwriters has lost a great friend."
Hamlisch collapsed and died Monday in Los Angeles after a brief illness, his publicist Ken Sunshine said, citing the family. Other details were not released.
The New York-born Hamlisch composed more than 40 film scores, including "Sophie's Choice," ''Ordinary People," ''The Way We Were" and "Take the Money and Run." His latest work came for Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!"
He became one of the most decorated artists in history, winning three Oscars, four Emmys, four Grammys, a Tony, a Pulitzer and three Golden Globes.
"There is some kind of gorgeous music in the heavens tonight," said Emmy-winning singer and actress Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball who performed with Hamlisch for years.
He was perhaps best known for adapting composer Scott Joplin on "The Sting." In the mid-'70s, it seemed everybody with a piano had the sheet music to "The Entertainer," the movie's theme song. To this day, it's blasted by ice cream trucks.
Hamlisch received both a Tony and the Pulitzer for "A Chorus Line" — the second longest-running American show in Broadway history — and wrote the music for "The Goodbye Girl" and "Sweet Smell of Success." He was scheduled to fly to Nashville, Tenn., this week to see a new musical production of his musical "The Nutty Professor," directed by Jerry Lewis.
Hamlisch even reached into the pop world, writing the No. 1 R&B hit "Break It to Me Gently" with Carole Bayer Sager for Franklin. He co-wrote "One Song" sung by Tevin Campbell and produced by Quincy Jones, and "I Don't Do Duets" sung by Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight.
"He was classic and one of a kind," Franklin said today after learning of his death, calling him one of the "all-time great" arrangers and producers. "Who will ever forget 'The Way We Were'?"
He won the 1974 Grammys for best new artist and song of the year, "The Way We Were," performed by Barbra Streisand. He kept writing, from the title song for the TV series "Brooklyn Bridge" to the stunning score of the movie "The Swimmer" to the symphonic suite "Anatomy of Peace." He also wrote the original theme song for ABC's "Good Morning America."
Hamlisch's interest in music started early. At the age of 7, he entered the Juilliard School of Music, having stunned the admissions committee with his renditions of "Goodnight Irene" in any key they desired.
In his autobiography, "The Way I Was," Hamlisch admitted that he lived in fear of not meeting his father's expectations. "By the time Gershwin was your age, he was dead," the Viennese-born musician would tell his son. "And he'd written a concerto. Where's your concerto, Marvin?"
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Composer Marvin Hamlisch, right, at the piano with lyricist Howard Ashman in a Sept. 9, 1986, photograph.