Composer John Barry, famous for his work on “Born Free”, “Out of Afric”a and the James Bond films, has died in New York of a heart attack aged 77. Born John Barry Prendergast in 1933, the York-born musician first found fame as leader of the John Barry Seven. His arrangement of Monty Norman’s James Bond theme led to him composing scores for 11 films in the series, among them “Goldfinger” and “You Only Live Twice”. His work saw him win five Oscars, while he received a Bafta fellowship in 2005.His most recent film score featured in the 2001 war thriller “Enigma”, while a musical version of “Brighton Rock”, created with lyricist Don Black, had its London premiere in 2004.Black, who worked with the composer on his “Born Free”, “Thunderball” and “Diamonds are Forever” theme songs, said Barry remained unaffected by his international success. “The thing about John that I will always remember was he never changed,” he said. “He was very much the Yorkshireman, whether he was in Beverly Hills or Manhattan.”
Awarded an OBE in 1999 for his services to music, Barry was renowned for his lush strings, orchestral swells and elegant melodies. His work found a new audience when Robbie Williams featured music from “You Only Live Twice” on his 1998 hit single Millennium. Current Bond film composer David Arnold paid tribute to his predecessor via Twitter. “I am profoundly saddened by the news but profoundly thankful for everything he did for music and for me personally,” he said. Barry’s son-in-law, BBC business reporter Simon Jack, said he “truly loved writing music as much as people enjoyed listening to it”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Born Free star Virginia McKenna said Barry was “a wonderful musician and composer”. Close friend Michael Crawford, meanwhile, said he had written “some of the most memorable and beautiful film scores we could ever wish to hear”. Barry’s first Oscars came in 1967 for his Born Free score and its iconic title theme. “He saw himself as much a dramatist as a composer and his music was inextricably linked to the stories told on the screen.” 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”.
More Academy Awards followed for the soundtracks he wrote for “The Lion in Winter”, “Out of Africa” and “Dances with Wolves”. Barry also won four Grammys, a Bafta for “The Lion in Winter” and a Golden Globe for” Out of Africa”. His work for TV included the themes for Juke Box Jury and “The Persuaders”, while his non-soundtrack work included the albums Eternal Echoes and The Beyondness of Things. In 2002 he was named an Honorary Freeman of the City of York, an honour he received at a venue in the city where he once used to play trumpet in the 1950s. Barry, who lived in Oyster Bay, Long Island, is survived by Laurie, his wife of 33 years, his four children and five grandchildren.
Roger Moore reacted to John Barry’s death saying “It’s such a shame as he was a wonderfully talented man who should have had many more years left”.