'Chorus Line' composer Marvin Hamlisch dies at 68

Associated Press Modified: August 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm •  Published: August 7, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — Marvin Hamlisch was blessed with perfect pitch and an infallible ear. "I heard sounds that other children didn't hear," he wrote in his autobiography.

He turned that skill into writing and arranging compulsively memorable songs that the world was unable to stop humming — from the mournful "The Way We Were" to the jaunty theme from "The Sting."

Prolific and seeming without boundaries, Hamlisch, who died at 68 after a short illness, composed music for film heroes from James Bond and Woody Allen, for powerful singers such as Liza Minnelli and Aretha Franklin, and high-kicking dancers of the Tony-winning "A Chorus Line." To borrow one of his song titles, nobody did it better.

"He was a true musical genius, but above all that, he was a beautiful human being. I will truly miss him," said Barbra Streisand, who first met the composer in 1963 and sang his "The Way We Were" to a Grammy win in 1974. "It was his brilliantly quick mind, his generosity, and delicious sense of humor that made him a delight to be around."

Hamlisch collapsed and died Monday in Los Angeles after a brief illness, his publicist Ken Sunshine said, citing the family. Other details were not released.

The New York-born Hamlisch composed more than 40 film scores, including "Sophie's Choice," ''Ordinary People," ''The Way We Were" and "Take the Money and Run." His latest work came for Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!"

Hamlisch became one of the most decorated artists in history, winning three Oscars, four Emmys, four Grammys, a Tony, a Pulitzer and three Golden Globes. The marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in his memory on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

He arranged many of Minnelli's albums, including her first two as well as "Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli 'Live' at the London Palladium."

"Marvin Hamlisch and I have been best friends since I was 13 years old," Minnelli said on Tuesday, calling him "one of the funniest people I knew. I will miss his talent, our laughter and friendship, but mostly I will miss Marvin."

"I have lost my first lifelong best friend, and sadly we have lost a splendid, splendid talent."

Actress-singer Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz who performed with Hamlisch for years, said: "There is some kind of gorgeous music in the heavens tonight."

Hamlisch was perhaps best known for adapting composer Scott Joplin on "The Sting." In the mid-'70s, it seemed everybody with a piano had the sheet music to "The Entertainer," the movie's theme song. To this day, it's blasted by ice cream trucks.

"My heart is broken. He made me feel so special. I love him so much," said actress and singer Idina Menzel, who often performed with Hamlisch and called him "a second father."

Hamlisch received both a Tony and the Pulitzer for "A Chorus Line" — the second longest-running American show in Broadway history — and wrote the music for "The Goodbye Girl" and "Sweet Smell of Success."

He was scheduled to fly to Nashville, Tenn., this week to see his new musical production of "The Nutty Professor," directed by Jerry Lewis. The Tennessee Performing Arts Center, where the show is being presented, said Tuesday night's performance will go on as scheduled despite the private grieving of the cast and crew, and that the marquee has been altered to celebrate and honor the composer.

Hamlisch's reach extended into the pop world, writing the No. 1 R&B hit "Break It to Me Gently" with Carole Bayer Sager for Franklin. He co-wrote "One Song" sung by Tevin Campbell and produced by Quincy Jones, and "I Don't Do Duets" sung by Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight.

"He was classic and one of a kind," Franklin said Tuesday after learning of his death, calling him one of the "all-time great" arrangers and producers. "Who will ever forget 'The Way We Were'?"

He didn't rest on that laurel, writing everything from the title song for the TV series "Brooklyn Bridge" to the stunning score of the movie "The Swimmer" to the symphonic suite "Anatomy of Peace." He also wrote the original theme song for ABC's "Good Morning America."

"I'm shocked by the loss of a great colleague, as is everyone in the theater and film business and every corner of the arts where song and score matter to people," said Alan Menken, the Academy- and Tony Award-winning composer. "The fraternity of songwriters has lost a great friend."