Composer Marvin Hamlisch Dies at 68

Marvin Hamlisch won three Academy Awards, four Emmys and a Tony

Wednesday, Aug 8, 2012  |  Updated 8:36 AM EDT
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Marvin Hamlisch, a conductor and award-winning composer best known for the torch song "The Way We Were," died Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 in Los Angeles.

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Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the scores for dozens of movies including "The Way We Were" and the Broadway smash "A Chorus Line," has died in Los Angeles. He was 68.

Family spokesman Jason Lee said Hamlisch collapsed and died Monday after a brief illness. Other details were not released.

Hamlisch's career included composing, conducting and arranging music from Broadway to Hollywood, from symphonies to R&B hits. He won every major award in his career, including three Academy Awards, four Emmys, four Grammys, a Tony and three Golden Globes.

His music colored some of film and Broadway's most important works.

Hamlisch composed more than 40 film scores, including "Sophie's Choice," ''Ordinary People" and "Take the Money and Run." He won his third Oscar for his adaptation of Scott Joplin's music for "The Sting." His latest work came for Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!"

On Broadway, Hamlisch received both a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for the long-running favorite "A Chorus Line" 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 production of his musical "The Nutty Professor," according to his publicist.

The Julliard School of Music graduate even reached into the pop world, writing the No. 1 R&B hit "Break It to Me Gently" with Carole Bayer Sager for Aretha Franklin. He won the 1974 Grammys for best new artist and song of the year, "The Way We Were," performed by Barbra Streisand.

That ballad exemplified Hamlisch's old-fashioned appeal — it was a big, sentimental movie ballad that brought huge success in the rock era. He was extremely versatile, able to write for stage and screen, for soundtracks ranging from Woody Allen comedies to a somber drama like "Ordinary People."

Hamlisch also had a place in popular culture. Known for his nerdy look, complete with thick eyeglasses, that image was sealed on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" during Gilda Radner's "Nerd" sketches. Radner, playing Lisa Loopner, would swoon over Hamlisch.

Hamlisch was principal pops conductor for symphony orchestras in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Dallas, Pasadena, Seattle and San Diego at the time of his death. He was to be announced to the same position with the Philadelphia Orchestra and also was due to lead the New York Philharmonic during its upcoming New Year's Eve concert.

He was working on a new musical, "Gotta Dance," at the time of his death and was scheduled to write the score for a new film on Liberace, "Behind the Candelabra."

He leaves behind a legacy in film and music that transcended far beyond notes on the page. As illustrative as the scenes playing out in front of the music, his scores helped define some of Hollywood's most iconic works.

"I don't think you could ever find a more contemporary and talented musician," former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement following the death of Hamlisch, whom she called "a dear friend."

"During our time at the White House, he entertained at many events – he even let me sing with him a few times, but luckily his piano music drowned out my voice! And I'll never forget that he wrote a special song for Ronnie's surprise 77th birthday party in 1988," she said.

Barbra Streisand, who had known Hamlisch since 1963, said in a statement of her own that she was "devastated" by the news of his death and said that she had been trying to reach him on the day he died.

"The world will remember Marvin for his brilliant musical accomplishments," she said, "but when I think of him now, it was his brilliantly quick mind, his generosity, and delicious sense of humor that made him a delight to be around."

Hamlisch is survived by his wife of 25 years, Terre.

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