UPDATED, 6:33 PM: James Horner’s reps at Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency tonight have confirmed the Oscar-winning composer’s death. Michael Gorfaine and Sam Schwartz released this statement on behalf of their agency:
“It is with the deepest regret and sorrow that we mourn the tragic passing of our dear colleague, long-time client and great friend, composer James Horner. An avid and experienced pilot, James was flying a single-engine aircraft that crashed in a remote area of northern Ventura County, California, shortly before 9:30am PST on Monday morning. He was 61 years old. Our thoughts and prayers are with James’ family at this difficult time, and also with the millions of people around the world who loved his music. A shining light has been extinguished, which can never be replaced. It has been an honor and a privilege to have worked with James since the inception of our agency. For more than three decades, his unique creative genius made an indelible imprint on each of our lives and on those of the entire Hollywood community. There is not a person in our GSA family who wasn’t touched by the power and reach of his music, and who isn’t diminished by his loss. We express our love and sincere condolences to James’ wife Sara and his two daughters, Emily and Becky. And we take comfort in the belief that in his last moments, James was doing something from which he derived such great joy. His spirit will continue to soar, and he will be with us always.”
PREVIOUSLY, 6:19 AM: We still don’t have definitive confirmation on the death of 61-year old Oscar-winning composer James Horner after reporting last night that the S312 Tucano MK1 small aircraft he piloted went down yesterday, west of Santa Barbara, CA between the Ventura and Kern county line. But filmmakers whose work he elevated with his soaring musical compositions are publicly mourning the passing of a singular talent. The crash started a brush fire and there was little left from the plane, according to sources. Horner’s body couldn’t be immediately identified and that so far has prevented law authorities and the composer’s reps at Gorfaine/Schwartz from issuing an official confirmation.
Horner will forever be remembered for his score for James Cameron’s Titanic, as well as the music he penned for the pic’s title ballad My Heart Will Go On, sung by Celine Dion. Not only did Horner win two Oscars (score and song) for Titanic, but the album became the biggest selling soundtrack of all-time with 30M units sold worldwide, while the Dion single sold 15M copies around the globe. Cameron initially didn’t want singing in his movie, but Horner felt sure enough of that ballad that he had it recorded in secret and won the director over. Because Horner composed all the music, the film proved a life-changing payday in excess of $20 million for Horner. Some of his most memorable film work included Aliens, Field Of Dreams, Apollo 13, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind and Avatar.
Throughout his career, Horner counted 10 Oscar noms and penned music for 100-plus titles. His first Oscar nom was for James Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi pic Aliens. Similar to his Titanic collaboration with Cameron, Horner composed the score and co-wrote the signature ballad I See You for the director’s $2.8B grossing 2009 comeback, Avatar. Horner’s latest score is for Southpaw, the Antoine Fuqua-directed boxing film that stars Jake Gyllenhaal and which The Weinstein Company releases July 23. He is also credited on the upcoming Chilean miner film The 33.
Mel Gibson had set Horner to score the movie he’s now directing, Hacksaw Ridge, the Cross Creek Pictures-funded film in which Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector American soldier to win the Congressional Medal of Honor after distinguishing himself at the Battle of Okinawa despite refusing to kill the enemy.
Ron Howard, whose seminal films were scored by Horner, last night got the news and tweeted: “Brilliant composer James Horner, friend & collaborator on 7 movies has tragically died in a plant crash. My heart aches for his loved ones.” Russell Crowe, who starred in one of those Howard-directed films, the Best Picture-winner A Beautiful Mind, wrote: “My sincere condolences to the family, loved ones and friends of James Horner.” Celine Dion, whose career is defined by her Titanic anthem, wrote: “Rene [Angelil] and I are deeply saddened by the tragic death of James Horner. He will always remain a great composer in our hearts. James played an important part in my career. We will miss him. We offer his family and friends our deepest sympathy.”
For his part, Horner summed up his ambition as a film composer this way: “In all the films I work on, there’s always that ‘What is the heart of the film?’ And I try and nail that”.
Horner was born in Los Angeles on August 14, 1953, and showed a keen interest in the piano at the age of five. His father Harry Horner held a hefty Hollywood resume with several production designer credits on a number of notables films, i.e. 1961’s The Hustler, 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and 1980’s The Jazz Singer and was also a TV director (The Rough Riders, Shirley Temple’s Playbook). Horner grew up in London and would eventually study at the Royal College of Music. He received his B.A. in music from the University of Southern California. After he earned a master’s degree, he started his doctorate at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The concert hall caliber pianist moved into films with scoring assignments on American Film Institute shorts which ultimately led to scoring 1979’s John Sayles-scripted period gangster pic The Lady In Red and on Roger Corman’s B titles, the first being Roger Corman’s 1980 sci-fi pic Battle Beyond The Stars.
In an interview with Classic FM, Horner said his apprenticeship with Corman “helped my procedural skills. How to produce music for literally nothing and how to write the best music for the films that they were.” Horner’s first major studio assignment came when he was hired for Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.
In his memoir, The View From The Bridge, Meyer described how he was unable to hire Goldsmith who scored the first Star Trek film because he became too expensive. So, he hired Horner, whose star rose and who became the go-to guy for many top directors. That included Howard (Willow, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Ransom, Cocoon and The Missing), Mel Gibson (Braveheart, Apocalypto), Wolfgang Petersen (Troy, The Perfect Storm) and Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear And Present Danger). Recent blockbuster scores include The Amazing Spider-Man and The Karate Kid.
Talking specifically about his musical tricks in Apollo 13, Horner said, “Apollo 13 is a really good example of something that is a tricky puzzle. You’re a composer, and you’re brought a story to score… to tell a story and you’ve got to make the audience forget they know the end. It’s historical and they already know it’s going to end a certain way. You have to be able to suspend that knowledge in the intense storytelling.”
NASA tweeted today that Horner’s music played during a Space Shuttle mission in 2001:
Horner won five Grammy awards, comprised of two for Titanic, two for his song Somewhere Out There from American Tail, and one for his Glory score.
Last night when word spread that Horner had died in the plane crash, Hollywood promptly outpouring their condolences.