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Overview for William A. Horning
William A. Horning

William A. Horning



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Having written the music for major Hollywood films over the course of several decades, composer James Horner amassed an impressive resume that included repeated collaborations with directors Mel Gibson, Ron Howard and James Cameron. In fact, it was with the latter that Horner composed his finest work, the sweeping score for "Titanic" (1997), which netted him two Academy Awards and associated him with the most successful movie of all time. Prior to that, he had made a name for himself composing such popular films as "48 Hrs." (1982), "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982) and "Cocoon" (1985). Horner received his first serious acclaim working with Cameron on "Aliens" (1986), though the two failed to reach a harmonious working relationship that delayed any further collaborations for over a decade. Meanwhile, he went on to score "Field of Dreams" (1989), "Glory" (1989), "Apollo 13" (1995), "Braveheart" (1995) and "A Beautiful Mind" (2001), all of which earned him award recognition at the Golden Globes, Grammys and Academy Awards. Though often accused by critics for recycling hooks and motifs from his previous films, Horner remained one of the preeminent composers working in Hollywood, a fact made clearer when his score for Cameron's stunning "Avatar" (2009) earned him further recognition and acclaim. Horner's death in the crash of his private plane near Santa Barbara on June 22, 2015 stunned friends and fans alike.

Born on Aug. 14, 1953 in Los Angeles, CA, Horner was raised by his mother, Joan, and his father, Harry, a successful art director and production designer from Austria who had enjoyed an Oscar-winning career in Hollywood for his work on "The Heiress" (1949) and "The Hustler" (1961). After first delving into the piano at five years old, Horner moved to England with his family, where he eventually studied under György Ligeti at the Royal College of Music. Back in the United States, he earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Southern California, which he followed by receiving his master's in music theory and composition from the University of California at Los Angeles. Horner stuck around the Westwood campus to pursue his doctorate in the same field while teaching music theory at the university. In 1978, he premiered his avant-garde composition, "Spectral Shimmers," to mixed critical reviews. Following a brief stint composing scores for student films made at the American Film Institute, Horner was tapped by low-ball indie guru Roger Corman to write the scores for "The Lady in Red" (1979) and "Battle Beyond the Stars" (1980).

Thanks to his entrée into the film world via Corman, Horner soon ventured out into more mainstream Hollywood fare, including an early Oliver Stone thriller called "The Hand" (1981). He won his first critical success, however, with his jazz fusion score for Walter Hill's "48 Hrs." (1982). His stock rose following his scoring for another box office hit, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982), which put the previously unknown composer in Hollywood demand. The following year, Horner began composing scores for a string of major studio films that included "Krull" (1983), "Gorky Park" (1983), "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (1984), "Commando" (1984), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Ron Howard's touching "Cocoon" (1985). Horner catapulted into the upper tier of film composers with his frenetic score for James Cameron's "Aliens" (1986), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score. But recognition was not without its price. Horner reportedly clashed with Cameron behind the scenes during post-production over the composer's need for more time to write the music. Since Cameron was editing while Horner was supposed to be composing, he was unable to see a cut until late in the process, which forced him to record the music.

That same year, Horner earned a second Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Original Song for "Somewhere Out There" from the animated feature "An American Tail" (1986), which also earned him Grammy awards for Song of the Year and Best Song in a Motion Picture, while the song became a commercial hit thanks to a duet by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram. Following a reunion with Ron Howard on "Willow" (1988), the composer earned another Best Original Score nod at the Academy Awards for his music in "Field of Dreams" (1989). Also that year, he received a Golden Globe nomination for his heart-wrenching score for the Civil War drama, "Glory" (1989), and went on to win a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television. Moving into the 1990s, Horner continued to write strong, critically acclaimed music for the big screen. Following what some considered to be a superior effort for the animated sequel, "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" (1991), he wrote the piano-heavy score for the understated chess drama, "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993), and the synthesizer-based music for "Bopha!" (1993); both of which ranked among his finer work.

Following his first collaboration with actor-director Mel Gibson on "The Man Without a Face" (1993), Horner received a fair amount of critical attention for the lush and melodic score for "Legends of the Fall" (1994), which interwove themes written to represent each of the major characters. Horner was a double Oscar nominee the following year for his Celtic-influenced music in Gibson's "Braveheart" and for the stark, but ultimately triumphant score on "Apollo 13," his third collaboration with director Ron Howard. Two years later, he bucked up and dove back into working with the tempestuous James Cameron for what later stood as the composer's most accomplished and successful achievement, the powerful Oscar-winning score to the blockbuster "Titanic" (1997). From a subdued beginning that underscored a burgeoning affair between two star-crossed lovers (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) through the heavy use of brass and drums to indicate the sinking of the unsinkable ship, the score proved to be the composer's masterwork. As he did with "Braveheart," Horner employed Celtic instruments, as well as the haunting vocalizations of Norwegian singer Sissel, to create the ethereal underscore for the romantic scenes. The film's Oscar-winning love theme, "My Heart Will Go On," with lyrics from regular writing partner Will Jennings and a performance by Celine Dion, was a chart-topping hit which played ad nauseam on radio for over a year.

After "Titanic," Horner settled into a consistent groove, penning scores for several major Hollywood films every year, including "The Mask of Zorro" (1998), "Mighty Joe Young" (1998), "Bicentennial Man" (1999) and "The Perfect Storm" (2000). He found himself in Oscar contention once again for his affecting score to "A Beautiful Mind" (2001), Ron Howard's semi-fictional biography of the schizophrenia-inflicted math genius, John Forbes Nash (Russell Crowe). After penning the dramatic underscore to "Enemy at the Gates" (2001), an elegiac look at the Siege of Stalingrad, he received another Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score for his work on the drama, "House of Sand and Fog" (2003). His music added to the triumphant battles of "Troy" (2004) while underscoring new discoveries in Terrence Malick's "New World" (2005). In 2006, he wrote the theme to the "CBS Evening News" for anchor Katie Couric's turn at the desk following Dan Rather's departure. Back in the film world, he teamed up again with Mel Gibson for "Apocalypto" (2006), scored Steve Zaillian's misfired adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men" (2006), and wrote and performed piano for the unsettling Holocaust drama, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" (2008). Joining forces with Cameron for the director's first film since "Titanic" over a decade prior, Horner wrote a sweeping score to the innovative 3-D opus, "Avatar" (2009), which emerged from rampant pre-release criticism to become a box office hit and legitimate Oscar contender. That path was further paved when Horner received nominations for Best Original Score at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. He followed that career high point with work on the scores to the reboot of "The Karate Kid" (2010) and French director Jean-Jacques Annaud's desert adventure "Day of the Falcon" (2011), followed by the historical war drama "For Greater Good: The True Story of Cristiada" (2012) starring Andy Garcia and Oscar Isaac. The superhero blockbuster "The Amazing Spider-Man" (2012) was followed by a reunion with Annaud on the drama "Wolf Totem" (2015), Antoine Fuqua's boxing drama "Southpaw" (2015), and "The 33" (2015), based on the true story of a gripping rescue operation in the aftermath of a mine collapse.

James Horner, an avid pilot, scored the IMAX documentary "Living in the Age of Airplanes" in 2015. On the morning of June 22, 2015, Horner's private plane, a single-engine turboprop, went down 60 miles west of Santa Barbara, California. Horner, the plane's only passenger, was killed in the crash. He was 61.

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