John Barry, Oscar winning film composer whose adaptation of the “James Bond” theme became one of the most recognizable pieces of film music EVER died in New York. He was 77. Though no cause of death has been released the BBC reports that Mr. Barry died of a heart attack.
Born in York, England in 1933, Barry was almost destined to have a career in movies. His father owned several movie theatres and young John would spend his free time working in them. Fascinated by the medium he decided to combine his two loves, film and music, into a vocation. He learned to play the piano and trumpet and set off to college with the goal of being a film composer. After serving in the Army as a bandsman he decided to create his own band, the John Barry Seven. Though the band wasn’t very successful, they were signed to a record deal at EMI, where Barry was eventually given a job as arranger and composer for various artists including Adam Faith. When Faith was signed to appear in the film “Wild For Kicks,” the studio hired Barry as the film’s composer.
In 1962 he was hired to adapt and contribute to the score of “Dr. No,” the film that introduced James Bond to the world. The “Bond” theme is steeped in mystery. It is credited in “Dr. No,” as well as on the film’s soundtrack album, to Monty Norman. While Barry claimed to have written the theme, British courts have twice ruled in Norman’s favor. It is clear that Barry’s arrangement of the song, giving it a “jazz” feel, is the definitive version that fans still embrace almost 50 years later. Barry worked on a total of twelve “Bond” films in his career.
Mr. Barry was nominated for seven Academy Awards during his career, winning the Oscar five times. He won two in 1967, honored for his original score for the film “Born Free” as well as his music for the title song, which won the award as Best Song. He also won the Best Original Score award for “The Lion In Winter,” “Out of Africa” and “Dances With Wolves.” He earned nominations for his scores for “Mary, Queen of Scots” and “Chaplin.” Many film fans, myself included, cite Mr. Barry’s music for earning “Out of Africa’s” Best Picture Oscar. Otherwise it was just a three-hour travelogue of Africa!
Other noteworthy scores include “The Ipcress File,” “Midnight Cowboy” (his score complimented the original songs written by Harry Nilson), “The Day of the Locust,” the 1976 version of “King Kong,” “The Deep” (one of my personal all time favorites), “Somewhere in Time” (another favorite), “Body Heat” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.”