Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, and Noel Cowardare among the names that helped establish the Great American Songbook.
More modern composers like Burt Bacharach, Randy Newman, Stephen Sondheim, and the late Henry Mancini continued that legacy by creating original music for film, stage, and television that managed to be both gloriously artistic as well as extremely popular. But no musician of the last forty years has had as much impact on all genres as Marvin Hamlisch, the brilliant composer whose unexpected death at age sixty-eight on August 7th shocked the entertainment industry and indeed the world.
Hamlisch was a native New Yorker, born on June 2, 1944 to Viennese Jewish parents Max and Lilly (née Schachter) Hamlisch. He was a child prodigy, accepted into the distinguished Juilliard School when he was just seven years old.
In 1973, at the age of twenty-nine, Hamlisch won three Oscars for his work on The Way We Were and The Sting. He also won a Tony Award, four Emmys, four Grammys, and two Golden Globe Awards, making him one of the most honored musicians of all time.
In 1975 Hamlisch collaborated on A Chorus Line, which ran for 6,137 performances, the most of any Broadway musical until it was surpassed by Cats. For this landmark show about the hopes, lives, loves, and fears of a group of Broadway dancers, Hamlisch shared the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with lyricist Edward Kleban, director Michael Bennett, and book writers James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante. Among the show’s now classic songs are “One,” “I Hope I Get It,” and “What I Did for Love.”
Hamlisch was a favorite collaborator of Barbra Streisand, whom he met when he was nineteen and the rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl. “I’m devastated,” Streisand wrote on her Facebook page. “He was my dear friend… He played at my wedding in 1998…and recently for me at a benefit for women’s heart disease… He was a true musical genius, but above all that, he was a beautiful human being. I will truly miss him.”He was a true musical genius, but above all that, he was a beautiful human being. I will truly miss him.”nk of him now, it was his brilliantly quick mind, his generosity, and delicious sense of humor that made him a delight to be around. Just last night, I was trying to reach him, to tell him how much I loved him, and that I wanted to use an old song of his, that I had just heard for the first time. He was a true musical genius, but above all that, he was a beautiful human being. I will truly miss him.”
Hamlisch was a frequent guest on all of the major talk shows, displaying a very likeable “nice Jewish boy” persona that let him breezily exchange quips with the likes of Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas, and David Letterman. He was also the object of desire for Gilda Radner’s Lisa Loopner character on Saturday Night Live, who often mentioned wanting to marry him.
His film work included the music for pictures as diverse as Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run and Bananas, The Spy Who Loved Me, Same Time, Next Year, Ordinary People, Sophie’s Choice, and the underrated 1980 Neil Simon comedy Seems Like Old Times, which boasts one of Hamlisch’s most ebullient scores.
Hamlisch wrote an absorbing 1992 memoir entitled The Way I Was, in which he candidly discussed his shyness and problems meeting women. He was involved for a time with fellow musician Carole Bayer Sager before getting married in 1989 at age forty-four to Terre Blair, a Columbus, Ohio weather and news anchor, who survives him, as does a legacy of great music.
His last works include the score for Behind the Candelabra, an HBO movie about Liberace scheduled to air next year, and the musical version of Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor, which opened in Nashville last month.