John Barry, the English composer who won five Oscars for such films as “Out of Africa” and “Dances With Wolves” but who was best-known for James Bond themes like “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball,” died of a heart attack Sunday at his Oyster Bay, N.Y. home. He was 77.
Barry invented the 007 sound with his mixture of jazz, pop and orchestral music, first as arranger of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” for “Dr. No” and then as composer of subsequent scores, notably “Goldfinger,” whose title song and bold, brassy style cemented the musical approach for all future Bond scores. Soundtracks for several, including later Bond films “You Only Live Twice,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “A View to a Kill” and “The Living Daylights,” were chart hits.
The Bond scores — which he often referred to as “million-dollar Mickey Mouse music” — were just one side of the composer. Also in the 1960s, he scored a chart hit (and won song and score Oscars) with “Born Free” and the first of his four Grammys for “Midnight Cowboy.”
His orchestral-and-choral score for the historical drama “The Lion in Winter” won another Oscar, and his music for the Bryan Forbes films “Seance on a Wet Afternoon,” “King Rat” and “The Whisperers” showed a quieter, more intimate side of the composer.
Barry’s other 1960s films included “Zulu,” “The Knack – and How to Get It,” “The Chase” and “Petulia,” and such non-Bond spy films as “The Ipcress File” and “The Quiller Memorandum.” In the 1970s, he did more period films with a choral emphasis, including “Walkabout” and “Mary Queen of Scots.” In 1975, he moved to the U.S. where he scored “The Day of the Locust,” “King Kong,” “Robin and Marian” and “The Deep.”
Barry also worked in the theater — his West End musicals “Passion Flower Hotel” and “Billy” (with a pre-“Phantom of the Opera” Michael Crawford) were hits, while his Broadway attempts (“Lolita My Love” with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; “The Little Prince and the Aviator” with frequent lyricist Don Black) closed during pre-Broadway tryouts. His last show, a musical version of Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock,” played for six weeks in London in 2004.
In television, Barry managed a chart hit with the theme for “The Persuaders” and also penned such themes as “The Adventurer” and “Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries.” His telefilms included “Eleanor and Franklin,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “Love Among the Ruins” and “The Gathering.”
In the 1980s and ’90s, Barry’s fast-paced film scores transitioned into a more sedate, romantic style, as heard in “Somewhere in Time,” “Out of Africa” and “Dances With Wolves,” the latter two winning original score Oscars. His jazz roots continued to surface, however, in the music of such 1980s films as “Body Heat” and “The Cotton Club.”
Barry scaled back his work in the 1990s, scoring a handful of films (including Oscar-nominated “Chaplin,” the IMAX “Across the Sea of Time” and Stallone hit “The Specialist”) while also creating concept albums of original, non-film music “The Beyondness of Things” and “Eternal Echoes.” His last film was “Enigma” in 2001.
In October of last year, we has honored with a lifetime achievement honor at the Ghent Int’l Film Festival, which staged a concert of his music performed by the Brussells Philharmonic Orchestra. Barry, however, was too frail to attend.
He was born John Barry Prendergast in York, England, in 1933. The son of a theater-chain owner, he gained an early appreciation for film music in his father’s cinemas. He studied music in York and later, by correspondence course, with Stan Kenton arranger Bill Russo. In the mid-1950s he launched his own band, the John Barry Seven, which scored several instrumental hits and also backed English singer Adam Faith on records and in public appearances.
Faith’s first film as an actor, “Beat Girl,” was accompanied by a Barry score. Although Barry continued to work in the U.K. record business, he increasingly focused on film music, eventually becoming England’s top film scorer. He received the Order of the British Empire and BAFTA’s Fellowship Award, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Survivors include his wife Laurie; four children and five grandchildren. Funeral services will be private, and a memorial service is expected to be held later this year in the U.K.