Oscar-winning ‘Titanic’ composer James Horner dead at 61
Los Angeles — From the swelling-sea songs of “Titanic” to the space symphonies of “Apollo 13” to the bagpipes of “Braveheart,” James Horner’s singular sound graced some of the biggest moments in the history of movies.
It showed in the two Oscars he won and the 10 he was nominated for, and in the status of the Hollywood luminaries who were mourning his death in a California plane crash.
Agents Michael Gorfaine and Sam Schwartz issued a statement Tuesday saying Horner was the pilot killed in the single-engine plane that crashed in a remote area about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, although official confirmation could take several days while the Ventura County coroner works to identify the remains.
People who fueled the plane at an airport in Camarillo confirmed that it was Horner who had taken off in the aircraft Monday morning, said Horner’s attorney, Jay Cooper.
James Cameron, who directed “Titanic,” the 1997 best picture that earned Horner his two Oscars, used terms from another of his Horner collaborations, “Avatar,” to describe the composer’s work.
“James’ music was the air under the banshees’ wings, the ancient song of the forest,” Cameron said in a joint statement with producing partner Jon Landau. “James’ music affected the heart because his heart was so big, it infused every cue with deep emotional resonance, whether soaring in majesty through the floating mountains, or crying for the loss of nature’s innocence under bulldozer treads.”
Horner had a singular sound, but it found a home in a vast variety of movies and other media, from 1980s synth-laden action flicks to dramatic Hollywood weepies to foreign-language indies. He even composed the theme song for the “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”
His Oscar wins for “Titanic” came for its score and theme song, “My Heart Will Go On,” sung by Celine Dion, which hit No. 1 around the world and become the best-selling single of 1998. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America included it among their “Songs of the Century” rankings.
“We will always remember his kindness and great talent that changed my career,” Dion said in a statement on her website.
Horner was nominated for 10 Academy Awards in all, honoring his work on “Aliens,” “Apollo 13,” “Field of Dreams,” “Braveheart,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “House of Sand and Fog” and “Avatar,” and for his original song, “Somewhere Out There,” from “An American Tail.”
Ron Howard, director of “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind,” said on Twitter that Horner was a “friend and collaborator” and “brilliant composer.”
“My heart aches for his loved ones,” Howard wrote.
A pianist since age 5, Horner studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the University of Southern California, eventually earning graduate degrees at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He got his start composing for movies by scoring shorts for the American Film Institute. His first commercial credits came from Roger Corman, who hired Horner to score several films in the 1980s, including “Humanoids from the Deep” and “Battle Beyond the Stars.”
Horner discussed his approach to making music while working on “Avatar.”
“To me, writing and composing are much more like painting, about colors and brushes,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. “I don’t use a computer when I write and I don’t use a piano. I’m at a desk writing and it’s very broad strokes and notes as colors on a palette. I think very abstractly when I’m writing. Then as the project moves on it becomes more like sculpting.”
Horner was known for including passages from his earlier compositions and from other composers in his work.
Horner’s other collaborators included George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone.
He also wrote the score for the forthcoming “Southpaw,” a boxing drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal that comes out July 24.
Horner worked many times with Cameron, with whom he often discussed the role of music in film.
“My job … is to make sure at every turn of the film it’s something the audience can feel with their heart,” Horner said in 2009. “When we lose a character, when somebody wins, when somebody loses, when someone disappears — at all times I’m keeping track, constantly, of what the heart is supposed to be feeling.”
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