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James Horner, 1953-2015

James HornerComposer James Horner has been killed in a plane crash. Horner died when the single engine S312 Tucano plane he was piloting crashed in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara, California. He was 61 years old.

James Roy Horner was born in Los Angeles in August 1953, the son of Harry Horner, an Oscar-nominated Hollywood production designer and occasional film director who emigrated from Austria. He attended high school in California and Arizona, but spent most of his formative years living in London, where he attended the Royal College of Music, and later completed his PhD at UCLA in Los Angeles. After scoring several short film projects for the American Film Institute in the late 1970s, and spending several years teaching, Horner joined the staff at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, scoring several low-budget genre films, including the popular Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), and working with soon-to-be Hollywood bigwigs such as director James Cameron and producer Gale Ann Hurd.

Horner launched into the big time in 1982 with his score for the critically acclaimed and commercially popular science fiction sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and from that point on Horner quickly rose to become one of the most in-demand composers in Hollywood. In the 1980s and 90s Horner became known for his grand, large-scale, emotional orchestral works; he scored a succession of box office hit movies including 48 HRS. (1982), Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989), The Pelican Brief (1993), Clear and Present Danger (1994), Apollo 13 (1995) and Ransom (1996), and wrote enormously popular scores for films such as Krull (1983), Cocoon (1985), Willow (1988), Field of Dreams (1989), Glory (1989), Legends of the Fall (1994) and Braveheart (1995), culminating in the massive Titanic in 1997, which remains one of the biggest-selling orchestral score albums of all time. Following the turn of the millennium Horner’s career continued apace, with scores for further box office successes such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), The Perfect Storm (2000), A Beautiful Mind (2001), Avatar (2009) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) amongst his efforts.

Horner was a 10-time Oscar nominee; he received two Academy Awards in 1997 for Titanic, for Best Score and Best Song, the latter for “My Heart Will Go On” performed by Celine Dion. In addition, Horner earned Best Score nominations for Aliens in 1986, Field of Dreams in 1989, Braveheart and Apollo 13 in 1995, A Beautiful Mind in 2001, House of Sand and Fog in 2003, and Avatar in 2009, as well as a Best Song nomination for “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail, also in 1986. In addition to this, Horner won two Golden Globes (from 10 nominations), and six Grammy Awards, including two for overall Best Song of the Year, in 1987 for “Somewhere Out There” and in 1998 for “My Heart Will Go On”.

In addition to his film music, Horner had also written a number of classical and concert pieces, most recently Pas de Deux, a double concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra commissioned by the Norwegian brother/sister musical duo Mari and Hakon Samuelson, which premiered in Liverpool, UK, in November 2014. He wrote hit songs for artists such as Diana Ross, Linda Ronstadt, Tina Arena, John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp, Charlotte Church and Faith Hill, contributed the theme to the short-lived current affairs show “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric”, and wrote music for the Horsemen P-51 Aerobatic Flight Team, of which Horner was a member, and through which Horner expressed his personal love of aviation and flying.


On a more personal note, I wrote this on my Facebook page the day Horner died, offering some more intimate reflections on his life and what he meant to me, and I thought it would be appropriate to also share them here:

I didn’t know James Horner. We weren’t friends. We didn’t spend any time together. He may have had some vague recognition of my name, from having maybe read a review of mine once, or something like that, but beyond that I’m certain he didn’t know me. I met him just once, when he was the guest at a screening of The Mission at the Skirball Center here in Los Angeles in August 2007. Jon Burlingame interviewed him on stage about his life and career, and the fact that his own favorite score was Morricone’s score for that film. My entire personal interaction with him lasted around 3 minutes, as the Q&A ended: a shake of the hand, a brief comment about how much I loved his work, him saying thank you, me asking him to sign my Legends of the Fall CD, and asking him to pose for a photo, taking said photo, and shaking hands again as he turned to greet someone else.

For him, the interaction was likely instantly forgettable, just another hand shaken amongst many hands. For me, considering today’s utterly devastating news that James Horner was killed in a plane crash this morning, it is now the only personal memory I will ever have of the man who changed my life more than he could possibly imagine.

I apologize upfront for making this all about me. Clearly his family, his daughters, and his friends are the ones who are grieving the most right now. They have lost a father, and a brother, and I can’t even begin to understand what they must be going through. I’ve been reading Facebook posts and comments from other composers, musicians, colleagues in the film music industry, who knew him well, worked with him, and collaborated with him on some of his most amazing works, and obviously their grief is different to mine. But this is something I need to write, just for myself, to come to terms with this as it unfolds in my head. I have all these emotions spilling out of me right now, and I need to write them down.

James Horner could never have known what an impact his music would have on a young kid in England when he wrote Krull, and Star Trek II, and Cocoon, and Willow, the scores which first planted the seeds of what film music was, and how it made me feel. Film music was always present in my life; I already had, and continue to have, an affinity for John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry, but the deep emotional quality of Horner’s music touched my soul in a way that no other music ever has. I have vivid memories of being profoundly moved by Spock’s funeral scene at the end of Star Trek II. I remember watching Cocoon on TV shortly after my own grandfather died in 1989, and feeling an intensely personal connection with the film, and the grandfather-grandson relationship between Wilford Brimley and Barret Oliver’s characters, and the way Horner’s music spoke to that connection. I remember the first time I saw Field of Dreams, and how much I cried at the finale when Kevin Costner reconnects with the ghost of his long-dead father over a simple game of catch. Horner could never have realized how those moments felt to a teenager thousands of miles away, being moved by the combined power of cinema and music in a way that he never had before.

He had no idea that, as 20-year-old in April 1995, I would go to see Legends of the Fall at the Warner Village Cinema in Sheffield, and leave the cinema that day primed to embark on a journey that would utterly change my life. As a result of seeing that film – and subsequently seeing Braveheart and Apollo 13 later that summer – I began collecting film scores. This led me to begin writing about film scores for my website, which would eventually become Movie Music UK. As a result of writing about film scores, I began travelling to the United States, to attend and subsequently write about various film music-related events. On one of these trips to Los Angeles, I met the woman who became my first wife. Because I married her, I eventually moved to LA – and here I remain. Although I’m not married to my first wife any more, the fact that I was able to move here with her led to me getting a job, settling down, meeting and making new friends, becoming an American citizen, and best of all embarking on my second (and last!) long term relationship, with the wonderful Holly McQuillan, who shares many of my passions and whose love and support is meaning so much to me right now.

He had no idea that, as a result of my love for this music, he would bring me into contact with kindred spirits who shared my passion. The members of the old Horner Shrine – Tom Hudson, Sheri and Martin Paternoster, Julie Brown, Marann Fengler, Karsten Spreen, and others whose names are escaping at this moment – guided me through this wonderful journey of musical discovery. The times we have spent together – in that crappy basement hotel room in London, drinking red wine from teacups and reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish in German, dancing the night away at the Equinox in Leicester Square, standing on a cliff top in Laguna Beach as Sheri and Martin got married – are some of my most treasured memories, and none of them would have been possible without James Horner bringing us together. We don’t talk as much as we should, because I’m terrible at keeping in touch with people, but I don’t think they know now much their friendship means to me. I’m damn well going to tell them next time I see them.

I wanted to finish this by saying something pithy, related in a clever way to something he wrote. “His heart will go on”, or something about him being in “The place where dreams come true”, but that’s trite and stupid. Truthfully, I’m just sad. Sad and angry and confused that someone who I didn’t know at all, except through their music, is making me feel like this as a result of a fucking plane crash. He never knew how much his music meant to me, or how much it changed my life for the better, and now I’ll never get the chance to tell him. It’s only just really dawning on me that I now have to start writing about James Horner in the past tense. That, after Southpaw and The 33 are released, I will never again experience the anticipation and exhilaration of discovering a new score by him. It’s almost too much to take in. I had never quite understood what I was seeing when I saw people on TV, lamenting and weeping at the deaths of their favorite pop stars; Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, or whichever enormously famous person died too young. Today, I do.

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  1. June 23, 2020 at 11:40 am

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