Film composer James Horner, best known for creating the original music scores to some of the biggest motion pictures of all time, died on Monday after a small aircraft he had been piloting crashed about 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, CA. He was 61.
The two-time Academy Award-winning composer’s representation Gorfaine/Schwartz expressed their condolences in a statement:
“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. 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.”
An avid pilot, Horner’s death was finally confirmed by his assistant Sylvia Patrycja, who wrote of his passing yesterday on Facebook:
“We have lost an amazing person with a huge heart and unbelievable talent. He died doing what he loved. Thank you for all your support and love and see you down the road.”
Born on August 14, 1953 in Los Angeles, Horner developed an appreciation for music early in life when he began playing piano at the age of 5. He attended the Royal College of Music in London and continued his education at the University of Southern California, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and later his master’s in music. Following a series of composing assignments for the American Film Institute and a stint teaching music theory at the University of California, Los Angeles, Horner went into film composing. He started out by scoring several successful low-budget exploitation movies for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, including the violent creature feature Humanoids from the Deep and the sci-fi adventure Battle Beyond the Stars. Corman loved his Battle soundtrack so much that he recycled it for several genre movies he later made, including Sorceress and Space Raiders.
On the strength of those early works, Horner began earning composing gigs for major studio films such as Wolfen, 48 Hrs., and Krull. He also scored two of the best entries in the Star Trek film franchise – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Beginning with 1986’s Aliens, Horner began a fruitful collaboration with filmmaker James Cameron that would result, more than a decade later, in his winning two Oscars for his work on Cameron’s romantic disaster epic Titanic, including one for the original song “My Heart Will Go On.” He has previously been nominated for Aliens, An American Tail, Field of Dreams, Apollo 13, and Braveheart. The Titanic soundtrack would become a blockbuster of its own on the album charts, selling over 27 million copies around the world. Horner would reunite with the director another decade after his big win at the Academy Awards to provide the music for Cameron’s 3D sci-fi extravaganza Avatar.
Horner also worked frequently with director Ron Howard; their collaborations include the aforementioned Apollo 13, as well as Willow, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind, and The Missing.
Since the start of his prestigious career, Horner has been one of Hollywood’s top composers for grandiose music that powers the imagination and stirs the emotions. He could move effortlessly between mindless action flicks (Commando, Red Heat), comic book adventures (The Rocketeer, The Amazing Spider-Man), war epics (Glory, Enemy at the Gates, Troy), charming family fantasies (Cocoon, Casper), suspenseful thrillers (Patriot Games, Flightplan), sensitive dramas (In Country, The Spitfire Grill), offbeat comedies (Volunteers, Heaven Help Us), and kids’ features (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji).
At the time of his death, Horner had completed scoring three films set to open later this year: Southpaw, The 33, and Wolf Totem.
The world of film music has lost one of its greatest talents. When James Horner was put to work on composing the soundtrack for an upcoming feature, there was nothing he couldn’t do. Our hearts go out to his family and friends. This is truly tragic news. There will never be another like him.
RIP James Horner August 14, 1953 – June 22, 2015
Here is a small selection of my personal favorite compositions by Mr. Horner.