Prolific award-winning composer Michael Kamen, who wrote the music for X-Men, Iron Giant, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and scores of other films, died of a heart attack brought on by complications from multiple sclerosis in his London home on Tuesday, November 18th. He was 55.
Born in Queens in New York City on April 15, 1948, to a left-wing family, Kamen was surrounded by music from the start. His father, who personally knew Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, gave his son an appreciation for Bach and Gilbert and Sullivan; and his aunts hosted benefit concerts played by the Julliard String Quartet. The youngster learned to play the piano at age two, and picked up other instruments before enrolling at Julliard. While studying oboe there, he formed the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, an early rock-classical fusion group. As he explained to the Hollywood Reporter, "The affection for classical music and the involvement in rock ’n’ roll and popular music has somehow never been permitted to become two different things for me. They were always one and the same. Singing rock ’n’ roll or singing Bach is something I love to do."
Kamen worked with David Bowie in the early 1970s and did the orchestral arrangements for Pink Floyd’s 1979 album, "The Wall." He also wrote ten ballets and composed the "Concerto for Saxophone" for David Sanborn and the "Concerto for Guitar" for Eric Clapton. His first film score was the Sean Connery vehicle The Next Man in 1976. It was his work on the score for 1995’s Mr. Holland’s Opus that inspired him and lead Richard Dreyfus to co-found the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, a charity dedicated to giving musical instruments to children.
Kamen won a Grammy and was nominated for an Oscar for his work on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He also won Grammys for his work on Metallica’s song, "The Call of the Ktulu," and for his arrangement of "An American Symphony."
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago, Kamen was undeterred. He kept working as before and premiered his first symphony, New Moon in the Old Moon’s Arms, at the Kennedy Center for the New Millennium. He kept his illness a secret from the public until the National Multiple Sclerosis Society honored him with the Dorothy Corwin Spirit of Life Award this last September.
Michael Kamen is survived by his wife Sandra, two daughters, his father and three brothers.