Marvin Hamlisch, the composer and conductor best known for the torch song "The Way We Were," died in Los Angeles Monday. He was 68 years old.
Hamlisch collapsed after a brief illness, his family announced.
In a career that spanned over four decades, Hamlisch won virtually every major award: three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony, and three Golden Globes.
Hamlisch composed music for more than 40 motion pictures, including his Oscar-winning score and song for “The Way We Were,” and his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s ragtime music for “The Sting,” for which he received a third Oscar.
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His musical scores, though intricately conceived, never drew attention to themselves. They served to complement the on-screen action, not overwhelm it — enhancing each gesture, each glance, each moment of drama. That subtle approach allowed him to be something of a musical chameleon, easily gliding from searing dramas to off-beat comedies and making him a close collaborator to a diverse group of directors, such as Woody Allen, Steven Soderbergh and Alan J. Pakula. He would even write a James Bond theme, the sexy and stirring "Nobody Does it Better" sung by Carly Simon over the opening credits to 1977's "The Spy Who Loved Me."
Perhaps his greatest collaboration was with Barbra Streisand, for whom he penned the signature love anthem "The Way We Were." He wrote the score for her 1996 film, "The Mirror Has Two Faces." He also served as musical director and arranger of Streisand’s 1994 concert tour and the television special, "Barbra Streisand: The Concert," for which he won two Emmys.
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In a 2010 interview with Broadway World, Hamlisch said he drew on the lovelorn masterpiece "My Funny Valentine" to write the theme song to "The Way We Were" because he wanted to capture the highs and lows of romance.
"It was all almost like a very yin-yang sort of movie," Hamlisch said. "I wanted to write something that was uplifting and positive. On the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of bitter-sweetness to that film — and bittersweet romance — so, it's a real duality. And that's why I think the song — though it's in the major mode — is quite sad."
Hamlisch's deft touch can be felt in the scores for such diverse films as “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ordinary People,” “Three Men and a Baby,” “Ice Castles,” “Take the Money and Run,” "Bananas,” “Save the Tiger,” “The Informant!” and his latest effort, “Behind the Candelabra,” an upcoming HBO film about the life of Liberace.
On Broadway, Hamlisch had a smash hit with 1975's long-running “A Chorus Line,” which received the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award. Other works such as “The Goodbye Girl” and “Sweet Smell of Success," garnered some critical praise, but were never fully embraced by audiences. But he remained busy in the theater scene, and a statement from his publicist said Hamlisch was supposed to fly to Nashville, Tenn. this week to see a production of his musical, “The Nutty Professor.”
Something of a musical prodigy, Hamlisch was the youngest student to be admitted by the prestigious Julliard School of Music. He was hired by "Lawrence of Arabia," producer Sam Spiegel to play piano at his parties, which in turn led to his first film job scoring the 1968 film "The Swimmer," an adaptation of John Cheever's short story.
At the time of his death, Hamlisch held the position of Principal Pops Conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony and Pops, Seattle Symphony, and San Diego Symphony.
Next week, he was to be announced as the Principal Pops Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra. Hamlisch was also due to conduct the New York Philharmonic in its upcoming New Year’s Eve concert.
He is survived by Terre, his wife of 25 years.