Bond film composer John Barry dies aged 77

31st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Oscar-winning composer John Barry, who wrote the scores for "Out of Africa" and numerous Bond films including "Goldfinger", has died at the age of 77, his family said Monday.

He died on Sunday in New York, reportedly of a heart attack, and leaves behind his wife of 33 years, Laurie, four children and five grandchildren.

Barry was best known for his association with the James Bond films -- he scored 11 films including "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice" -- and his atmospheric scores are credited with giving 007 much of his smooth persona.

"I think James Bond would have been far less cool without John Barry holding his hand," said David Arnold, his successor as the 007 score composer, describing his death as a "profound loss".

Although Barry did not compose the distinctive theme tune to the Bond films -- that was the work of Monty Norman -- he provided the arrangement that became known to millions.

He also achieved wide success outside the Bond movies, winning Oscars for "Out of Africa", "Dances With Wolves" and "The Lion in Winter", and two for "Born Free", for best song and best music score.

In a film career spanning over three decades he composed and arranged music for some 100 films, many of which became household names, including "Midnight Cowboy" in 1969.

"It is with great sadness that the family of composer John Barry announce his passing on the 30th of January 2011 in New York," a family statement said.

"Mr. Barry is survived by his wife of 33 years, Laurie, and his four children and five grandchildren. Funeral arrangements will be strictly private and a memorial service will be held later this year in the UK."

Barry was born in 1933 in the northern English city of York and developed his love of films while growing up around his father's movie theatres. His favourite film as a child was Errol Flynn's "The Adventures of Robin Hood".

He later moved to London and lived for a time in Chelsea, at the heart of the swinging Sixties, reportedly renting out his spare room for a few months to the then unknown Michael Caine.

It was at that time that he met the sex siren Jane Birkin, one of his four wives.

Barry's big break came when he worked on "Dr. No" (1962) and his orchestral arrangements became integral to the image of the British spy.

In an interview with Time Magazine in 1999, Barry described how he sought to use his music to help the low-profile George Lazenby when he took over the 007 role from Sean Connery in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".

"We were faced with George Lazenby and I felt the need to go back to the epitome of Bondian music so that I would try to recapture in the audience's ear the original Sean Connery image, if you like," Barry said.

"I was trying to impose on Lazenby the suaveness, the humour, and I really overdid the score."

Barry played the trumpet and jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong were an inspiration, as well classical composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky, and Broadway composers such as the Gershwins.

Fellow British composer Arnold, who wrote the music for "Tomorrow Never Dies", "The World is Not Enough" and "Die Another Day", praised Barry's "extraordinary melodies".

"That was John's gift -- not only his way with harmony but the fact that he could state within a five- or ten-second phase everything you need to know about a movie," the composer told BBC radio.

He added: "The music that he wrote transcends the movies that it was written for and became part of popular culture."

Although Barry had been resident in the United States for several years, Arnold said he never forgot his roots.

"He was forever a Yorkshireman, he was gruff and forthright and hilarious and so elegant," he said.

Barry's son-in-law, BBC reporter Simon Jack, also remembered him as a "wickedly funny man" whose "passion, genius and sense of humour will be terribly missed by his family and friends".

© 2011 AFP

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