Jewish ‘Titanic’ composer Horner dies in plane crash
Famous for work on such classic films as ‘Avatar,’ ‘Field of Dreams,’ ‘Braveheart,’ Oscar-winner was an avid pilot
LOS ANGELES (AP) — James Horner, who composed music for dozens of films and won two Oscars for his work on “Titanic,” died when his plane crashed in Southern California, his agents confirmed Tuesday. He was 61.
Agents Michael Gorfaine and Sam Schwartz issued a statement saying Horner, who was Jewish, had died, although official confirmation could take several days while the Ventura County coroner works to identify the remains of the pilot, who was the only person on board.
People who fueled the plane at an airport in Camarillo confirmed that he took off in the aircraft Monday morning, said Horner’s attorney, Jay Cooper.
The S-312 Tucano MK1 turboprop crashed and burned in a remote area of the Los Padres National Forest, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Horner’s Jewish roots are summarized by interfaithfamily.com’s Nate Bloom: “Horner’s father, Harry Horner, an Austrian Jewish set designer, traveled to the United States with Max Reinhardt, the famous Austrian Jewish theater director, to put on a theater spectacular (The Eternal Road) about the history of the Jewish people. The Nazis marched into Austria in 1938, when the play was being presented in America. Harry remained in America and he married James’ mother, a member of a prominent Canadian Jewish family, in the 1950s.”
Horner’s credits ran the gamut From big-budget blockbusters to foreign-language indies. He even composed the theme song for the “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”
His work was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. He won two for 1997’s best picture, “Titanic,” for the movie score and its enduring theme song, “My Heart Will Go On,” sung by Celine Dion. It became a best-seller.
“We will always remember his kindness and great talent that changed my career,” Dion said in a statement on her website.
He has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards honoring his work on “Alien,” ”Apollo 13,” ”Field of Dreams,” ”Braveheart,” ”A Beautiful Mind,” ”House of Sand and Fog” and “Avatar,” and for his original song, “Somewhere Out There,” from “An American Tail.”
“The ‘Avatar’ community has lost one of our great creative lights with the passing of James Horner,” James Cameron and Jon Landau, who respectively directed and produced “Avatar,” said in a statement. “James’ music was the air under the banshees’ wings, the ancient song of the forest, and the heartbeat of Eywa. We have lost not only a great team-mate and collaborator, but a good friend. James’ music affected the heart because his heart was so big.”
“My Heart Will Go On” hit No. 1 around the world and become the best-selling single of 1998. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America included it among its “Songs of the Century” rankings.
A pianist since age 5, Horner studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the University of Southern California, eventually earning graduate degrees at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He got his start composing for movies by scoring shorts for the American Film Institute. His first commercial credits came from Roger Corman, who hired Horner to score several films in the 1980s, including “Humanoids from the Deep” and “Battle Beyond the Stars.”
Horner discussed his approach to making music while working on “Avatar.”
“To me, writing and composing are much more like painting, about colors and brushes,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. “I don’t use a computer when I write and I don’t use a piano. I’m at a desk writing and it’s very broad strokes and notes as colors on a palette. I think very abstractly when I’m writing. Then as the project moves on it becomes more like sculpting.”
Horner was known for including passages from his earlier compositions and from other composers in his work.
Horner’s collaborators included George Lucas, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone. Horner worked many times with Cameron, with whom he often discussed the role of music in film.
“My job … is to make sure at every turn of the film it’s something the audience can feel with their heart,” Horner said in 2009. “When we lose a character, when somebody wins, when somebody loses, when someone disappears — at all times I’m keeping track, constantly, of what the heart is supposed to be feeling.”
Horner also wrote the score for the “Southpaw,” a boxing drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal that comes out July 24.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.