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.