Michael Kamen, at 55; composer and arranger of films
LOS ANGELES -- Michael Kamen, the Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated composer who fused hard-rock riffs with classical styling in albums for Pink Floyd and provided music for the "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard" movies," has died. He was 55.
Mr. Kamen, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, died yesterday of an apparent heart attack at his home in London, according to his publicist.
Mr. Kamen's career was multifaceted. He wrote and directed the music for the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics; served as musical director for Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee at Buckingham Palace; and orchestrated, arranged, and conducted heavy metal band Metallica's collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony. A 1999 live album, "S&M: Metallica with the San Francisco Symphony, Conducted by Michael Kamen," has sold more than 4 million copies.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, Mr. Kamen wrote 28 film scores, from offbeat films such as "Polyester" and "Brazil" to more mainstream fare such as "X-Men," "Mr. Holland's Opus," "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," Disney's "101 Dalmatians" and, most recently, Kevin Costner's "Open Range." He also wrote the music for the HBO series "Band of Brothers."
"He had a phenomenal talent for motion pictures," producer-director Richard Donner, who worked with Mr. Kamen on five movies, including the four "Lethal Weapon" films, said yesterday. "Michael is like a fixture in your life because who do you turn to when you need great music? You turn to Michael Kamen."
Added Donner of his friend, whose frizzy gray hair and impish brown eyes recently prompted a Los Angeles Times reporter to liken him to an Edward Koren cartoon character: "He looked like the lion in `The Wizard of Oz.' He never was anything but the happiest, sweetest, gentlest guy you ever met."
Mr. Kamen earned an Oscar nomination in 1991 for "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You," the Bryan Adams hit song from the "Robin Hood" movie. The song, with lyrics by Adams and Robert John "Mutt" Lange, also received two Grammys.
"An American Symphony," from the 1995 film "Mr. Holland's Opus," won a Grammy for best instrumental arrangement.
Over the years, Mr. Kamen orchestrated music for Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, and the Eurythmics.
"Maybe I should have a shingle in front of my house that says, `String arranger to the stars,' " he told The Boston Globe in 1992. "But . . . I've been very fortunate to work with many of my heroes."
Born in New York City, Mr. Kamen grew up in Queens, where his parents were liberal activists.
"There was music in my house all the time," he told the Washington Post in 2000. "Like most left-wing families in Queens, my parents played a healthy diet of Leadbelly and Pete Seeger records, the Weavers, in addition to Bach."
Mr. Kamen, who began playing piano at age 2, studied the oboe at the Juilliard School of Music in New York in the 1960s.
"By then, rock 'n' roll had become the thing, and the Beatles were happening," he told the Post. "They changed my life, there's no question about it. So at Juilliard I started a band called the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble."
The group was one of the first rock/classical fusion groups. It "made its name by wearing tuxedos, playing society gigs, and trying to adapt Bach to rock," according to the New Rolling Stone Record Guide. "They failed miserably at all that overblown stuff, then went out and made this tremendous rock 'n' roll album" -- "Roll Over" (1970).
When the group was invited to perform with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and other large symphony orchestras, Mr. Kamen began writing the orchestrations. And when the group disbanded after seven years and five albums, he was asked to write a ballet score for the Harkness Ballet, the first of eight scores for ballet companies.
"I was just a rock 'n' roll oboist," he told the London Independent in 1994. "But it seemed within my grasp to do it."
An impressed David Bowie, who attended the premiere of the ballet, asked Mr. Kamen to become music director for his "Diamond Dog" tour, one of the first theatrical rock tours. Mr. Kamen also brought Bob Dylan together with an orchestra at a temple in Japan in 1994, for which Mr. Kamen composed and conducted an overture for 350 performers.
Mr. Kamen also provided orchestral arrangements for Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and co-produced Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut" album.
Mr. Kamen was diagnosed six years ago with multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that causes various disabilities. But he did not go public about his illness until September, when he was awarded the Dorothy Corwin Spirit of Life Award at a fund-raising event benefiting the Southern California chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
"When I first saw the diagnosis, I nearly hit the bottom," he told the Hollywood Reporter in September. "But I just bounced right back. I thought: Well, I don't feel so bad, and I'm not about to feel so bad. And, if I do, I'll get better."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.