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Versatile composer Michael Kamen dies

Wed 19 November, 2003
Tamara Conniff
Los Angeles

Renowned composer-arranger Michael Kamen has died of an apparent heart attack at his home in London. He was 55.

He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago.

A four-time Grammy winner and a multiple Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy nominee, Kamen scored more than 80 films and TV shows, including the "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard" franchises, "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "Mr. Holland's Opus," "Open Range" and the miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" and "Band of Brothers."

Kamen is considered a visionary of orchestration and one of the few composer-arranger-conductors to fuse classical music with rock. Kamen worked with Pink Floyd on the seminal work "The Wall" and did orchestrations with such rock greats as Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Queen, Alice in Chains and Metallica.

Born in New York in 1948, Kamen began playing piano at age 2. He started his professional music career as a folk singer in a blues-influenced band and went on to study oboe at the Juilliard School of Music before delving into composition. While at Juilliard, he formed one of the first rock-classical fusion groups, the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble.

After the group broke up, David Bowie asked Kamen to be his musical director and keyboardist on the 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour in the early 1970s, which resulted in the critically acclaimed album "David Live."

In 1976, Kamen scored his first film, "The Next Man," starring Sean Connery.

He also wrote 10 ballets, including works for the Harkness, Louis Falco, Alvin Ailey, Joffrey Ballet and Milan's La Scala. Additionally, Kamen wrote two special concertos for rock musicians: "Concerto for Saxophone" for David Sanborn and "Concerto for Guitar" for Clapton.

"The affection for classical music and the involvement in rock 'n' roll and popular music has somehow never been permitted to become two different things for me," Kamen said in a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter. "They were always one and the same. Singing rock 'n' roll or singing Bach is something I love to do."

Kamen had not publicly spoken about his illness until September before he was honoured with the Dorothy Corwin Spirit of Life Award by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

"People in general ask me, 'Are you all right? Are you in pain?' There is really no pain," Kamen said. "There is some discomfort, and my walking isn't as good as it used to be, but I'm still able to conduct. I'm still able to get onstage and offstage. I'm still playing the keyboard and playing the oboe and singing. I'm writing music, and that hasn't slowed down. They talk about (MS patients) being overwhelmed by fatigue, but I think my life is so filled with stimulating things to do that fatigue just doesn't enter the equation."

Kamen's illness did not slow him down. In recent years he recorded four albums, including the multiplatinum "Metallica With the San Francisco Symphony," which he conducted, orchestrated and arranged. In January 2000, Kamen premiered his first symphony, "New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms," at the Kennedy Centre for the New Millennium. He also wrote and directed music for the Opening Ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and performed at the Grammy Awards with Coldplay and the New York Philharmonic. Last year, Kamen served as musical director for the Queen's Golden Jubilee at Buckingham Palace.

Kamen was working on a stage musical based on the film "Mr. Holland's Opus," with producer Marty Richards ("Chicago"), as well as an orchestral concert with Bob Dylan.

He co-founded the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation with Richard Dreyfuss, a nonprofit dedicated to giving musical instruments to needy students.

Kamen is survived by his wife, two daughters, three brothers and his father.

Copyright © 2003, Reuters Ltd