James Horner, Oscar-Winning Composer of ‘Titanic,’ Dead in Plane Crash

The 61-year-old musician died Monday when the plane he was piloting crashed near Santa Barbara

Last Updated: June 23, 2015 @ 11:47 AM

James Horner, the two-time Oscar-winning composer, died Monday in a plane crash outside Santa Barbara, California. He was 61.

The Santa Barbara County Fire department arrived at the scene of the crash near Ventucopa, about 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, at approximately 9.30 a.m. and discovered debris. There were no survivors at the scene.

According to CBS2 in Los Angeles, the FAA issued an alert for a single-engine S-312 Tucano MK-1. The crash sparked a brush fire, the station reported.

Ron Howard, who worked with Horner on a number of films including “A Beautiful Mind,” confirmed his death via Twitter.

“Brilliant Composer James Horner, friend & collaborator on 7 movies has tragically died in a plane crash. My heart aches for his loved ones,” Howard wrote.

Calling Horner a “dear friend and client,” Horner’s talent agency, the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency, expressed its shock and sadness, and asked for privacy for Horner’s family.

“Although we are all awaiting official confirmation that our dear friend and client James Horner was in fact the pilot, we are shocked and deeply saddened to learn that his single-engine aircraft was involved in a fatal crash yesterday morning in northern Ventura County,” the agency said. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with James’ family at this difficult time.  We can offer no further comment for the time being, except to ask that the family’s privacy be respected in the days ahead.”

In a storied career that began with 1979’s “The Lady in Red,” Horner scored more than 100 features and earned a remarkable 10 Academy Award nominations. He won two in 1998, for the score of “Titanic” as well as the ubiquitous chart-topping ballad “My Heart Will Go On” (he shared the latter award with Will Jennings). He also won three Grammy Awards for his work on the “Titanic” soundtrack, which sold more than 30 million copies and became the top-selling movie soundtrack album in history.

His compositions were noted for their old-fashioned craftsmanship, the frequent use of Celtic elements (particularly in his work on James Cameron films like “Titantic” and “Avatar”) and the reliance on new technology to achieve traditional sonic affects, as with the use of an all-digital choir for “Titanic.”

The son of a set designer, Horner was born in Los Angeles and took up piano at age 5. He studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music for five years before returning to California for a B.A. from USC. He then earned a doctorate from UCLA, where he worked with Paul Chiara.

By the time of his first Oscar nominations in 1987, for composing Cameron’s sci-fi classic “Aliens” score and co-writing the song “Somewhere Out There” from the animated film “An American Tail,” Horner had already scored more than 36 features, many of them low-budget productions from schlockmeister Roger Corman.

He followed with nominations for 1989’s “Field of Dreams,” 1995’s “Braveheart” and “Apollo 13,” 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind,” 2003’s “House of Sand and Fog” and 2009’s “Avatar.”

Horner recently completed work on the score for Antoine Fuqua‘s boxing drama “Southpaw,” which The Weinstein Company is set to release on July 24.

In addition to his love of music, Horner had a lifelong passion for flying since his boyhood days growing up around air shows, as he recounted in a 2009 TV documentary called “The Horsemen Cometh.” He reportedly owned five aircraft.