×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Francis Lai, Oscar-Winning ‘Love Story’ Composer, Dies at 86

French composer Francis Lai, who won an Oscar for “Love Story” and penned the beguiling theme for “A Man and a Woman,” has died at the age of 86, the mayor of Nice announced on Wednesday. No cause of death was reported.

Lai’s plaintive piano melody for “Love Story,” the 1970 tearjerker that made stars of Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, was his biggest hit, earning him an Oscar and a Golden Globe. His soundtrack recording was all over radio in early 1971, reaching no. 37 as a single and no. 2 as a soundtrack album. When lyrics were added to the melody, Andy Williams sang “Where Do I Begin” to no. 7 on the charts that same year.

The score almost didn’t happen. Lai initially turned down the assignment, he told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. But French actor Alain Delon, who had seen a cut of the film, called Lai and convinced him to delay his summer vacation.

Delon and producer Robert Evans flew to Paris with a print, screened it for him and, said Lai, “I came out of the screening incredibly moved. I went straight home, sat at my keyboard and wrote that theme that very night.”

Lai had already achieved a modicum of fame with his romantic theme for “A Man and a Woman,” French director Claude Lelouch’s art-house hit of 1966. The combination of Lai’s accordion and the wordless “da-ba-da-ba-da, da-ba-da-ba-da” vocals of a male-female duo struck a chord with record-buyers, propelling the soundtrack album to no. 10 on the American charts.

Director Lelouch became Lai’s greatest champion, collaborating with the composer on nearly 40 projects — many of them romantic in nature — including “Live for Life” (1967), “Love Is a Funny Thing” (1969), “Happy New Year” 91973), “And Now My Love” (1974), “Another Man, Another Chance” (1977), “Bolero” (1981), “Edith and Marcel” (1983), “A Man and a Woman, 20 Years Later” (1986) and their final film together, last year’s “Everyone’s Life.”

He worked for other English and French directors as well, scoring “I’ll Never Forget What’sisname” for Michael Winner (1967), “Mayerling” for Terence Young (1968), “Three into Two Won’t Go” for Peter Hall (1969), “Rider on the Rain” for Rene Clement (1970), “International Velvet” for Bryan Forbes (1978) and “Les cles du Paradis” for Philippe de Broca (1991). His albums for “Emmanuelle 2” (1975) and “Bilitis” (1977) were hits among European record-buyers.

In all, he scored more than 100 films. For American television, he scored the TV movie “Berlin Affair” (1970), the theme for “The Sex Symbol” (1974) and the Joan Collins miniseries “Sins” (1986), which sported a Carly Simon song written by Lai.

Lai was born in Nice, played accordion and piano, and while he was still in his 20s, settled in Paris’s Montmartre district. He soon became accompanist to the legendary chanteuse Edith Piaf. He began writing songs for her as well, and his total song output is now said to exceed 600.

Survivors include his wife and three children. The funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral Catherine Saint-Arson in Nice.

“It is with great sadness that I learn of the death of Francis Lai, this great composer from Nice,” Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi reported. “I will soon propose to his family to give his name to an emblematic place of our city.” Added Gilles Jacob, former president of the Cannes Film Festival: “His melodies had a crazy charm.”

More Music

  • Neyla Pekarek

    Watch Neyla Pekarek's Michel Gondry-Inspired Cardboard Kitsch Video (EXCLUSIVE)

    Neyla Pekarek’s post-Lumineers solo career is off to a strong start with a show at the Opry at the Ryman on Saturday night and the Monday release of her new video for the song “Train.” The clip was directed by Los Angeles’ Liza Nelson and features Pekarek riding a cardboard constructed locomotive in a look reminiscent [...]

  • Benny Andersson, Anni Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha

    Abba’s New Music Delayed Until Later This Year

    Abba fans rejoiced last April when the group, which split up 35 years ago, announced that they had recorded two new songs for a “Virtual Abba” experience in collaboration with “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller. The project first announced in 2016, and was scheduled to premiere, via digital versions of band members, on NBC and ABC [...]

  • Erykah Badu Attempts to Clarify Her ‘Prayer’

    Erykah Badu Attempts to Clarify Her ‘Prayer’ for R. Kelly

    Erykah Badu took to Twitter Sunday night in an attempt to clarify her “prayer” for R. Kelly, which she spoke about during a Saturday concert in Chicago. “I don’t know how everybody else feels about it but I’m putting up a prayer right now for R.,” she said to the crowd before referencing the longstanding [...]

  • Harry Connick Jr.

    Harry Connick Jr. Swears Off Super Bowl After Saints Defeat

    Tempers flared during today’s NFC championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams at the Super Dome after a controversial non-call on a potential pass interference penalty and head-to-head hit by L.A. defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman, who slammed into Saints pass receiver  Tommylee Lewis on a crucial third-down play. The ref’s decision [...]

  • Editorial use only. No merchandising.Mandatory Credit:

    Lady Gaga Slams Government Shutdown, Mike Pence at Vegas Residency

    Lady Gaga took a short break from singing “Million Reasons” at her Saturday performance of “Enigma” in Las Vegas to slam the president for the continued government shutdown. While sitting at the piano for her performance, Gaga broke into a takedown of the government shutdown and Vice President Mike Pence, who has been in the [...]

  • maggie rogers

    Album Review: Maggie Rogers' 'Heard It in a Past Life'

    Maggie Rogers earned one of those very rare “Saturday Night Live” slots in which a musical guest is booked onto the show well in advance of her major label debut album’s release — two and a half months prior, in this case. And the scrutiny of such an appearance is not always pretty. Rogers’ “SNL” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content