The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and pianist was also an arranger, orchestrator, musical coordinator and musical supervisor. He left the world with dozens of masterpieces that will keep his name alive forever. His work included some of the most treasured movie and Broadway scores of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Some of his most iconic work made it to the upper reaches of the pop charts, giving Hamlisch vast exposure beyond theater and film enthusiasts.
Before he was 30, Hamlisch had received three of the most prestigious awards given in every major creative genre, being one of only a handful of artists who could claim that accomplishment. He won an Oscar and a Grammy for his title song and score of “The Way We Were.” His adaptation of Scott Joplin ragtime tunes in “The Sting” earned him another Academy Award. He went on to write more than 40 movie scores.
In 1975, when “A Chorus Line” hit the boards, Hamlisch became a singular sensation, garnering both a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize, shared by the lyricist, director and book writers.
He was a regular guest on talk shows, and was called “the best-known movie composer since Henry Mancini.” He was thought of as the last in a line of celebrity composers that included Mr. Mancini, Burt Bacharach and Stephen Sondheim.
Hamlisch’s father, Max Hamlisch, was an accordionist and bandleader. His son began playing piano when he was five. According to the Internet Broadway Data Base (IBDB), Hamlisch was a child prodigy, and the youngest child ever to be accepted into Juilliard at the age of six.
His first Broadway job was as rehearsal pianist for “Funny Girl” starring Barbra Streisand. His professional relationship with her lasted his entire life. His first film score was for “The Swimmer” starring Burt Lancaster.
Another legend with whom he paired up was Liza Minnelli. He wrote songs for her, while also working with Judy Garland. He traveled with Groucho Marx as accompanist and straight man during a 1974-75 tour.
According to playbill.com, Barbara Streisand reacted to the news by saying about her colleague and friend, “When I think of him now, it was his brilliantly quick mind, his generosity, and delicious sense of humor that made him a delight to be around.”
Bernadette Peters, who won a Tony as the star of Hamlisch’s “The Goodbye Girl,” told playbill.com: “Working with him was a dream come true. His talents gave joy to audiences worldwide. What a great loss for all.”
While he was nominated for Tonys representing countless musical accomplishments, he was especially recognized for hallmarks including “The Goodbye Girl,” “They’re Playing Our Song,” and “The Way We Were.”
For “A Chorus Line,” which was arguably the greatest contribution Hamlisch made to music and the musical theater, he walked away with the 1976 Tony for best original score, the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for drama and the 1976 Drama Desk Award for outstanding music and lyrics. In 1983, Hamlisch told the New York Times, “I have to keep reminding myself that ‘A Chorus Line’ was initially considered weird and off-the-wall. You must not underestimate an audience’s intelligence.”
When “A Chorus Line” ran for 6,137 performances on Broadway in 1975, it was the most performances of any show, until “Cats” surpassed it. Revivals of the legendary show on Broadway and on tours elevated the score as part of pop culture.
Also recognized as pop culture are his hits, “Nobody Does It Better,” written with the lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, and the theme from the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Carly Simon’s recording of the song reached No. 2 in 1977.
He and Bayer Sager also wrote a No. 1 soul hit for Aretha Franklin, “Break It to Me Gently.”
Hamlisch wrote background scores for “Ordinary People,” “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Informant.” He created the score for HBO’s movie based on Liberace, “Behind the Candelabra,” and for a musical based on the Jerry Lewis film “The Nutty Professor.”
When he was 21, his song “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” became a Top 20 hit in 1965 for Lesley Gore.
According to Hamlisch’s website, he held the title of principal pops conductor for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, along with other orchestras around the country.
Recently, Hamlisch has been an advocate for music education, traveling the country as Ambassador for the issue of school funding cuts in music education.
Hamlisch is survived by his wife of 23 years, Terre Blair, a television broadcaster and producer. She said that Hamlisch was “… always appreciative of his gift. He used to say, ‘It’s easy to write things that are so self-conscious that they become pretentious, that have a lot of noise. It’s very hard to write a simple melody.’”
If you look at a career that produced such important work as “Funny Girl” to “The Goodbye Girl” and “A Chorus Line,” among so many others, it
is impossible to grasp what a legend the world lost this week in Marvin Hamlisch.