Arts & Entertainment

'A Chorus Line,' 'The Sting' composer Marvin Hamlisch dies at 68 in Los Angeles

Marvin Hamilsch performs on stage at the 2009 New York Philharmonic Spring Gala at Avery Fisher Hall on April 20, 2009 in New York City.
Marvin Hamilsch performs on stage at the 2009 New York Philharmonic Spring Gala at Avery Fisher Hall on April 20, 2009 in New York City.
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

Listen to story

Download this story 1MB

Composer Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the scores for dozens of movies including "The Sting" and won a Tony for the 1975 musical "A Chorus Line," has died in Los Angeles. He was 68.

Family spokesman Jason Lee said Hamlisch died Monday after a brief illness. Other details aren't being released.

Throughout his career, Hamlisch composed, conducted and arranged music for productions from Hollywood to Broadway.

Hamlisch managed to rake in every major award during his career, including three Academy Awards, four Emmys, a Tony, four Grammys and three Golden Globes.

Hamlisch spoke with KPCC's Larry Mantle a couple months ago about his role conducting the Pasadena Pops Orchestra.

“I think when you’re multi — what do you call it? Talented, or multi-whatever — you just do a lot of different things, you can get criticized easily for doing too much, but on the other hand, I gotta live with myself, and I don’t want to have too much down time,” Hamlisch said.

Hamlisch had a full summer conducting the Pasadena Pops in 2011 and had conducted two concerts this year, Pasadena Symphony Association CEO Paul Zdunek said. Zdunek shared his thoughts with KPCC.

His music colored some of film and Broadway's most important works.

"Songs like 'The Way We Were' would bring tears to people when he started tinkling on the ivories at an event or at our concerts," Zdunek said.

Hamlisch composed more than 40 film scores, including "Sophie's Choice," ''Ordinary People" and "Take the Money and Run." He won his third Oscar for his adaptation of Scott Joplin's music for "The Sting." On Broadway, Hamlisch received the Pulitzer Prize for long-running favorite "The Chorus Line" and wrote "The Goodbye Girl" and "Sweet Smell of Success." A news release from his publicist said he was scheduled to fly to Nashville, Tenn., this week to see a production of his hit musical, "The Nutty Professor."

Zdunek said Hamlisch was special. "He was genuine. Especially an entertainer of his stature, all of his experience and all of his talent ... he was still incredibly grounded. That was one of the big surprises, to know how much of a teddy bear he was, really. Just a genuine human being who cared about, truly, the American songbook and delivering that to the future."

"Marvin was definitely a workaholic and a perfectionist," Zdunek said. "So you put an incredible talent with workaholic and perfectionism, and you get a person who just defied description."

Hamlisch earned his place in American culture through his music, but he also had a place in popular culture. Known for his nerdy look, complete with thick eyeglasses, that image was sealed on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" during Gilda Radner's "Nerd" sketches. Radner, playing Lisa Loopner, would swoon over Hamlisch.

Hamlisch was principal pops conductor for symphony orchestras in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Dallas, Pasadena, Seattle and San Diego.

Hamlisch showed incredible energy, Zdunek said. "Marvin and [Michael Feinstein] were just doing the showmanship to the hilt at the last concert, so this was a huge shock for us."

He was to be announced to the same position with the Philadelphia Orchestra and also was due to lead the New York Philharmonic during its upcoming New Year's Eve concert.

He leaves behind a legacy in film and music that transcended far beyond notes on the page. As illustrative as the scenes playing out in front of the music, his scores helped define some of Hollywood's most iconic works.

Can anyone else compare to Hamlisch? "It's DNA. If we could figure that out we could clone it, and then we'd have amazing entertainers all around us," Zdunek said.

Zdunek said that Hamlisch was the George Gershwin of our day. "I don't know who's after him at this point."

Listen to KPCC's Larry Mantle's June interview with Hamlisch on "AirTalk."