Two-time Oscar winner James Horner, whose emotive scores for modern classics including Titanic and Braveheart cemented him as one of Hollywood’s most adored composers, died in a California plane crash Monday, his agency, Gorfaine/Schwartz, has confirmed. The Los Angeles native was 61.
A beloved figure in the entertainment industry, Horner was perhaps best known for his work on the 1997 film Titanic, which won the Oscar for Best Picture. The James Cameron-directed romance led to two Oscar wins for Horner – one for original dramatic score, and the other for original song (shared with lyricist Will Jennings and performer Celine Dion) for “My Heart Will Go On.” His score sold 27 million copies worldwide, becoming a financial phenomenon in the composing world.
Horner is believed to have been flying a single-engine S312 Tucano turboprop plane when the vehicle crashed in a remote area approximately 60 miles from Santa Barbara, killing the pilot. The plane was registered to Horner, though the coroner has not yet identified the body of the pilot, which the Ventura County Sheriff Adjunct stated was found “in bad shape.”
Gorfaine/Schwartz seemed confident that the body was in fact Horner’s, however, releasing a statement related to the crash.
“It is with the deepest regret and sorrow that we mourn the tragic passing of our dear colleague, long-time client and great friend, composer James Horner,” the agency said in an official statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with James’ family at this difficult time, and also with the millions of people around the world who loved his music. A shining light has been extinguished, which can never be replaced.”
The statement continued, “It has been an honor and a privilege to have worked with James since the inception of our agency. For more than three decades, his unique creative genius made an indelible imprint on each of our lives and on those of the entire Hollywood community. There is not a person in our GSA family who wasn’t touched by the power and reach of his music, and who isn’t diminished by his loss.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1953 to production designer Harry Horner and his wife Joan, Horner studied at London’s Royal College of Music before returning to the United States to pursue a music degree at the University of Southern California. He worked in concert halls before heading to Hollywood, scoring student films for the American Film Institute and going on to work in the music department in a number of small films.
1979’s The Lady in Red was Horner’s first major project, but it was scoring Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 that elevated him to the upper tier of Hollywood’s composition scene. He would go on to tackle another Star Trek sequel, sci-fi Cocoon, Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando and other titles before first teaming with Cameron on 1986’s Aliens.
Horner was a frequent collaborator with Cameron, and his work on the Aliens and 2008’s Avatar led to Oscar nominations. He was reportedly involved in composing the score for the upcoming Avatar sequels, though it’s unclear how much work had been completed on that front prior to Horner’s death.
In total, Horner received 10 Oscar nods, including nominations for Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, An American Tail, Field of Dreams, Apollo 13 and House of Sand and Fog. His scores were acclaimed for their rousing, heart-swelling sounds, with a great many of his films earning attention as emotionally charged crowdpleasers.
“A great tragedy has struck my family today,” Horner’s assistant Sylvia Patrycia wrote on Facebook, asking for privacy as she and Horner’s wife and daughters grieve his passing. “We have lost an amazing person with a huge heart, and unbelievable talent. He died doing what he loved.”
Horner was a trained pilot who owned the plane in question. He is survived by his wife Sara and daughters Emily and Becky.