James Horner, ‘Titanic’ Composer, Dies in Plane Crash

James Horner dead
Andrew H. Walker/Getty

Composer James Horner, who won two Oscars for the music of “Titanic” and scored such other blockbusters as “Avatar,” “Braveheart,” “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind,” died Monday in a plane crash in Ventura County, Variety has confirmed. He was 61.

The two-seater single-engine S312 Tucano crashed north of Santa Barbara about 9:30 Monday morning and sparked a brush fire that was extinguished by country fire crews. Horner, a trained pilot, was alone in the plane, which was completely destroyed.

Horner was one of the most popular film composers of the past 30 years, and his “Titanic” soundtrack – with its hit Celine Dion song, “My Heart Will Go On,” written with Will Jennings – became the biggest-selling movie-score album of all time, selling an estimated 30 million units worldwide.

He scored more than 100 films in all and was often in demand for big popcorn movies. Most recent were “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Karate Kid” remake, but he also scored “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” and “Aliens.”

He was born Aug. 14, 1953, in Los Angeles, the son of production designer Harry Horner. He spent his formative years in London, attending the Royal College of Music, but he returned to L.A. and earned his bachelor’s degree in music at the USC and did post-graduate work at UCLA.

Horner began his career with AFI shorts and low-budget Roger Corman films including “The Lady in Red” and “Battle Beyond the Stars,” quickly graduating to major studio films including “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” His 1980s output demonstrated his versatility, including scores for “48 Hrs.,” “Cocoon,” “Willow” and “Field of Dreams.”

In the 1990s he added “The Rocketeer,” “Sneakers,” “Patriot Games,” “Legends of the Fall” and “Ransom” to his resume before hitting the jackpot, both financially and awards-wise, with “Titanic.” In addition to his two Oscars, he won song and score Golden Globes for the James Cameron film.

He received eight other Oscar nominations, including seven for the scores of “Aliens,” “Field of Dreams,” “Apollo 13,” “Braveheart,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “House of Sand and Fog” and “Avatar.”

As a songwriter, he earned an Oscar nomination and two 1987 Grammys including song of the year for “Somewhere Out There,” written with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil for the animated film “An American Tail.” He did the “American Tail” sequel “Fievel Goes West” and musically launched another popular animated-film franchise with “The Land Before Time.”

He earned four more Grammys including one for instrumental composition for 1989’s “Glory” and three for “Titanic” including record of the year and song of the year.

He also scored Michael Jackson’s “Captain EO” theme-park attraction at Disneyland in 1986 and composed music for a handful of TV movies including “A Piano for Mrs. Cimino,” “Extreme Close-Up” and “Freedom Song.”

Horner dabbled in other realms of music-making, including composing new music for Katie Couric’s stint at the “CBS Evening News” in 2006 and, in recent years, classical commissions. In November 2014 he premiered a double concerto for violin and cello in Liverpool, England, and March saw the premiere of his concerto for four horns in London.

Horner also scored music for an airshow by the Horsemen in 2010.

The Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency, which represented Horner, issued the following statement late on Tuesday: “It is with the deepest regret and sorrow that we mourn the tragic passing of our dear colleague, long-time client and great friend, composer James Horner. An avid and experienced pilot, James was flying a single-engine aircraft that crashed in a remote area of northern Ventura County, California, shortly before 9:30am PST on Monday morning. He was 61 years old.

Our thoughts and prayers are with James’ family at this difficult time, and also with the millions of people around the world who loved his music. A shining light has been extinguished, which can never be replaced. It has been an honor and a privilege to have worked with James since the inception of our agency. For more than three decades, his unique creative genius made an indelible imprint on each of our lives and on those of the entire Hollywood community. There is not a person in our GSA family who wasn’t touched by the power and reach of his music, and who isn’t diminished by his loss.”

Horner is survived by his wife, Sara, and his two daughters, Emily and Becky.

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  1. Sally Cameron says:

    So sad, why do wonderful talented people die young and others don’t? RIP

  2. jcrios209 says:

    Very sad news, enjoyed lots of his scores including some not mentioned Jumanji, Bicentenial Man, and The Mask of Zorro.

  3. Shirley Bigham says:

    I am so very sorry. Loved his work!!!!

  4. Mjkbk says:

    I remember when “The Wrath of Khan” came out, and the composer switch had been made from the magnificent Jerry Goldsmith in the first Trek film, to some guy named Horner. Prepared to be disappointed with the soundtrack, I was instead blown away by it.

    From then on, I was aware of everything James Horner did.

    RIP, Mr. Horner, and my condolences to those left behind.

  5. John Popovich says:

    I will miss the music that excited me since “Battle Beyond the Stars”, that made me grieve the death of Spock and Littlefoot’s Mom, that moved me during the tragic and uplifting scenes of “Legends of the Fall” and “Titanic”, and finally, that made me cry when Kevin Costner asked “Dad, want to play catch?” R.I.P., Mr. Horner. You will be missed.

  6. R ALBRIGHT says:

    i am destroyed in terms of purchasing music…..I may buy a yearly greatest hits cd including variety of pop music……and I own a few classical cds……BUT THE LOSS OF HORNER IS A BLOW TO LOVERS OF MOVIES & THEIR SOUNDTRACKS,. HE PAINTED MASTERPIECES WITH SOUND OFTEN STIRRING SOARING EMOTIONS WE EXPERIENCE IN THE MOVIES – WHETHER INTENSE, DRAMATIC, EXCITING,TRAUMATIC, EVEN TRAGIC……. PERFECTLY MATCHING OUR EMOTIONS OF THE STORIES THAT BECOME FILM LEGEND…..WHILE PICTURES CAN PAINT A THOUSAND WORDS…….MUSIC DRAWS UPON OUR HOPES ,EMOTIONS, CONQUESTS, FEARS, AND DESPAIRS THAT EXIST IN BOTH FILM & LIFE. HORNER HAS BEEN THAT BEACON OF SONIC LIGHT FOR ALMOST 3 DECADES…… jOHN WILLIAMS IS REMAINING BEACON WHO IS ENJOYING RETIREMENT. I HOPE THERE ARE PROTEGES, COMPATRIOTS, AND ASPIRING
    COMPOSERS TO ASSUME HIS MANTLE…….IF NOT, MOVIES WILL SUDDENLY FEEL LIKE THEY ARE IN A N EMOTIONLESS STERILE BLACK & WHITE AS OPPOSED TO THE SPIRITUALLY COLORFULLY EMOTIONALLY SOARING SCORES WE’VE EXPERIENCED VIA HORNER. WE’VE LOST A GREAT ARTIST..

    • jcrios209 says:

      John Williams is not retired. He did The Book Theif two years ago,he’s doing Star Wars The Force Awakens this year, and THE BFG next year. The only reason he’s not doing Spielbergs Bridge of Spies is because he was ill at the time.

      • Sal U. Lloyd says:

        Try as I have, I cannot get myself to enjoy Giacchino–and I liked LOST and DAWN. In fact, as an Apes fan, I was hoping he’d get an Oscar no for his DAWN score–if only because he is well known and prolific.

        i guess what I’m saying is that you can play a snippet of TITANIC and obviously recognize it. You can play a snippet of BRAVEHEART and immediately recognize that too. Not so with any of Giacchino’s scores–at least not so far.

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      Film scoring started to decline in the 90s so who are we kidding??? THANK YOU MARTIN SCORSESE FOR GOODFELLAS.

      Mr. Horner was perhaps the best of the few remaining composers of what is almost a lost art! A lot of people like Michel Giacchino, but as a student of the cinema, I cannot recognize ANY of his scores, UNLIKE the case with the late Mr. Horner. RIP.

      • jcrios209 says:

        Love Horner, but how can you not recognize Giacchino’s work? As James Horner and John Williams have slowly taken on less work Giacchino has made some of the most recognizable themes of the past few years. Fringe, The Incredibles, Up, Super 8, his Star Trek cues are amazing, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

  7. Dave J. says:

    Great loss, and I guess he’s still credited for the next two Avatar installments scores too!

  8. Daniel says:

    Truly unfortunate. A diverse oeuvre that will last.

  9. Sandy Muller says:

    The plane was brought down by Vangelis. Seriously, his Khan soundtrack was an absolute masterpiece. He was a great great talent.

  10. Lee says:

    Why do we lose so many of the greats so soon?

  11. A tremendous talent gone much too soon. His amazing body of work is a testament to his skill as a composer. Its hard to pick a favorite of his scores but I would say Field of Dreams. Rest in peace.

  12. Jacques Strappe says:

    A gifted film composer whose lovely, prolific scores will live on forever through the magic of movies. RIP (ps Field of Dreams is one of my all time favorite movie scores)

  13. BillUSA says:

    The loss of life is tragic whether it be a famous composer or a truck driver. I didn’t know of Mr. Horner until now and the depth of my ignorance is further compounded by the fact that I have seen most of his films. In a twisted irony, his plane was manufactured in Ireland – the same country where the HMS Titanic was built. My deepest sympathies and heart-felt condolences to his family.

  14. Ken says:

    My goodness, what a tragic loss. His scores for Ron Howard (COCOON, APOLLO 13, A BEAUTIFUL MIND) and James Cameron (ALIENS, TITANIC, AVATAR) were wonderful. His music for A BEAUTIFUL MIND was particularly compelling. Also a great fan of his DEEP IMPACT soundtrack. Sad day, indeed.

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      If I can’t remember it, it must not have been that good. BRAVEHEART was his masterpiece and THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN also very good.

  15. Virginia says:

    Airplanes are not worth a damn. there are far too many catastrophes involving them. I will not fly. i never paid much attention to Mr Horner’s music, but I am so sorry for this terrible tragedy. May God bless you and your family, Mr. Horner.

    • Jay says:

      So are these newfangled contraptions we call automobiles. Whew…stay away from them, too!
      RIP, Mr. Horner. Glad you went out doing what you loved.

  16. tony george says:

    It is so sad. Just as a point of historical interest, Jamie’s first scored picture was Humanoids From the Deep – produced by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures (fun score done for $45,000 all in). From there he went to Battle Beyond The Stars, which really launched his career.

    • Angeleno says:

      It’s truly amazing how many people who have gone on to huge careers got their start with Roger Corman. Even if his movies are not your thing, all movie lovers owe him a debt of gratitude.

      • Sal U. Lloyd says:

        True, very true. Some made it to the top like Coppola, Nicholson, Cameron, others floundered in near obscurity like Monte Hellman.

  17. Brian says:

    A true loss in the cinema world, who hasn’t sung “Somewhere out there” in chorus or either rolled their eyes or felt a surge of emotion at the”My Heart Will Go On” theme. He remains one Hollywood’s most iconic composers and will truly be missed. Thank you Mr. Horner for all you bestowed upon us.

  18. Belinda Robertson says:

    I’m Not A Movie Goer But I and My Husband and Randa Who was 3 at the time. We Explained while it was a Real Story The Movie Was Make Believe. I Have Always Been Drawn To the Titanic Even When I Didn’t Know About the Titantic.!!!! We Loved the Music And The Movie!!!! He James Horner Will Be Missed By All!!!!

  19. Rest in peace James Horner. You will always be remembered as one of Hollywood’s premere composers.

  20. James Horner, A BRILLIANT COMPOSER AND OUT OF THE BOX CREATER OF BRILLIANT CAPTIVATING MOVIES, YOU WILL BE REMEMBERED AND MISSED. THANK YOU. REST IN PEACE..

  21. RIP JAMES HORNER, YOU ENTERTAINED US WITH EXTRODINARY CREATATIONS. YOU WILL LIVE ON WITH IN THE MOVIES YOU CREATED. THANK YOU. GOD BLESS

  22. Gabriela Scandura (from Argentina) says:

    I’ve always admired him for his music. Loved to listen to it. He will be sincerely missed. Rest in peace, James.

  23. One of the finest composers for films, ever. Yes, he often borrowed from himself, it’s true. But that was one of his strengths, in my opinion. Just like I love hearing Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Bernard Herrmann or John Williams, and know from the first few notes that’s it them. I like that familiarity. It’s like seeing your favorite actor in different films in similar roles. Harrison Ford comes to mind. Han isn’t Indy or Deckard, but still, it’s Harrison Ford. And I like that.

    My favorite scores by James Horner:

    Apollo 13 (His music helped capture the feeling of isolation and of being trapped in space. And that ending theme with Annie Lennox. Gorgeous).

    Braveheart (What can you say? His score here made your heart pound and made you want to add a ‘Mac’ to the front of your name and wear a kilt!)

    Glory (I never thought I’d cry over Matthew Broderick, but boy was I was wrong. That ending, oh my god)

    Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (Maybe the first time I noticed Horner’s name. I never forgot it after that battle scene though)

    Gorky Park (very impressive use of classical themes melded into the modern thriller. Love the opening mix he did with the skating. Never forgot that. )

    Aliens (again, a real heart pounder score. Loved the metallic ‘clink, clink, clink’ sounds he added in. Made you think the aliens were scraping along the grating!),

    Field of Dreams (another one like Glory, pulling the heart strings till they almost snap),

    Titanic (Of course).

    Rest in peace, James. Thank you for moving us with your music.

  24. warnerbrown says:

    It’s weird, it feels almost like I lost someone I knew. That’s how great his music was. He was a genius.
    Rest in peace James Horner.

  25. BarkStar says:

    Horner had a tendency to repeat himself or reuse his own work. Many of his scores sound alike. Yet, they always sounded awesome, powerful and engaging, so much that you didnt care that he was repeating himself. It is a true loss.

  26. First dread, then heartbreak, were my reactions over losing this incredible talent too soon. He had such a way of pulling me, and I’m certain i wasn’t alone, into any film he orchestrated. I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of this incredible man who added so much to the entertainment lives of so many. God bless the grieving.

  27. JE Vizzusi says:

    I fail to realize this Howard Hughes syndrome to pilot especially single engine small commercial aircraft when someone has all the resources to fly privately and either own or hire out small jets and safer aircraft. In terms of the history of flight we have not advanced when a catastrophic event happens. His wonderful scores will be with us forever.

  28. DUNNY P says:

    i note that the aircraft Mr Horner was flying was a Shorts Tucano. This is a very high powered trainer used to train fighter pilots all over the world, this model being one of many which the UK RAF have retired athough still have nearly 100 left in service. I cant question his capabilities as a pilot as clearly I did not know the man, but I have to question how much training he had for this aircraft. It is not a Cessna, Piper or Beechcraft. It is the single engined aircraft equivalent of a Maserati. It may turn out to be a tech failure but I thought it prudent to point out what sort of aircraft we are talking about
    Having said that, I still need to say it’s a loss of an extraordinary talent . Hollywoods best in his field.

    • Matt O. says:

      Thanks for the comment. I googled a pic of the Shorts Tucano. Good grief, it looks like a Mustang or an ME109. My only flying experience is Microsoft FS 2002 and Microsoft FSX, but that definitely looks like a serious high performance airplane.

  29. Kathy G says:

    I was so stunned to read about the untimely death of James Horner. His film scores were so moving – from some of his earlier scores including Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Journey of Natty Gann and The Rocketeer, to such recognizable scores as Cocoon, Mask of Zorro, Troy, and of course Titanic. Just looking at his imdb entry shows how much work he accomplished during his career. His professional peers, and moviegoers, will miss his contributions to the entertainment industry.

  30. He was such an amazing composer. Through his beautiful music, he will always be remembered.

  31. srvwp2013 says:

    We are losing a lot of people of late. Many of them are victims of these small individual plane crashes. There must be a complete overhaul and reform of United States airspace. There must be a halt to any and all private piloting until the skies are deemed safe again. The age group demographic in which Mr. Horner existed is seeing a lot of loss. Aging Boomers and entering Seniors should be specially monitored for health, capability, and airworthiness.

    We have an entire of Generation dying amongst us — The aging Baby Boomers. Even we know we are dying and aging out. Society must take steps to protect all of us against ourselves and others.

    The use of United States airspace must be restricted and limited only to Commercial and Military aircraft.

    • Bry says:

      While it’s a great heartbreak that the world of cinema (not just Hollywood, as his reach was truly global), has lost one of its most brilliant composers, pointing the finger blindly at general aviation doesn’t do anyone any good. Don is absolutely correct. A more insightful comment might have been asking the question of whether the crash was caused by maneuvering flight, some mechanical issue or something else entirely. As private aircraft are not required to carry either cockpit voice recorders or flight data recorders, it could be a while before we know.

      Don’t buy the Howard Hughes syndrome comment, either. The fact that he was piloting a high-performance single-engine aircraft gives us no information whatsoever about the cause. Accidents can happen to anyone in any type of plane, given a chain of contributing circumstances. Best thing to do is just let the NTSB do their job.

      As a director, am devastated by the loss of this luminary to the global artistic community. As a pilot, want to know the sequence of events that caused this senseless tragedy to occur. RIP

    • chgoflyer says:

      I won’t reiterate what Don said (he’s spot on) but the other thing I want to ask is, how exactly do you think these commercial pilots are going to train, get their ratings, and build the hours they need before they start flying hundreds of people around every day? You think somebody walks onto the flight deck of a regional jet from day one? And only people who are certain at the outset that they have the desire and ability to end up being commercial or military pilots should even start the training at all? Take Don’s advice and while you’re at it, read up on some automobile accident statistics, because at the moment you have utterly no idea what you’re talking about.

    • WTF Guy says:

      WTF? Your crazy.

    • Don Speirs says:

      You’re kidding, right? Calling for the complete halt in private aviation because of a high-profile accident? I really want a hit of whatever it is you;re smoking

      Do some serious risk assessment before you make statements like that. Anecdotal claims of “a lot more accidents” don;t hold up. Show me actual statistics that the accident rate has dramatically increased overall – not just among celebrities – and you might win over some people.

      Otherwise, you are so off-base it’s not even funny.

  32. Airplanes terrify me – and this is a pure example as to why! Ugh. So sad :(

  33. Angeleno says:

    This is just heartbreaking. Such a terrible loss to music in general and film scores in particular. I can still remember the first soundtrack that made me aware of him, Gorky Park, still one of my favorites. There are several of his soundtracks that aren’t often mentioned that I also love — Swing Kids, The Devil’s Own, The Spitfire Grill, The New World — as well as the gorgeous Legends of the Fall and Glory. He leaves a living legacy in the minds of all of us who love music.

    My heart goes out to his family and loved ones, including his musical colleagues. Peace be with you.

  34. Anwar Sosa says:

    I am speechless he was a great composer, the movie industry has lost a great member. We will have his music to remember him forever

  35. Bruce Sullivan says:

    James Horner ‘s Film Scores will be one of the most missing part of a Film .. He could draw your emotion to a picture

  36. Dale says:

    Still trying to get my head around this … so unexpected and a great loss to all who love film scores.
    He has left us with a legacy of great scores that touch your emotions that few living composers these days rarely reach ( Mr Williams being the other one ). As he covered all genres it is nigh implossible to choose a favourite from his 100 plus scores. Star Trek II, A Beautiful MInd, Man without a Face, Gorky Park, Cocoon, Spitfire Grill etc all added immensely to the enjoyment of those films.RIP Mr Horner your achievements in film scoring will stand the test of time..

  37. c o says:

    Just awful news. His contributions to music and our lives cannot be understated. A Beautiful Mind has always been one of my favorites. I am heartbroken.

  38. MKC says:

    A huge loss. His work on Star Trek II was phenomenal with big powerful brass. Aliens and Pelican Brief were also among my favorites.

  39. Yt says:

    Terrible.

    His list of films was amazing.

    Truly great artist. RIP

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