The American pianist died today of bone cancer at his home in Fort Worth. He was 78.
Van Cliburn won the inaugural Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958, provoking a new Cold War at the keyboard in which the Soviets invested every imaginable resource and threat to produce a winner of their own. (Watch below at 3:05).
Welcomed back in New York with a ticker-tape parade, he became and remained the most famous American classical pianist.
A shy man, he avoided long-distance travel and was content to be an American idol. The piano competition that he founded in his own name cemented his iconic status. He was a trailblazer for piano playing, a genius at using mass media for the benefit of art, rather than image. He announced the diagnosis of terminal cancer in August 2012 and made one final appearance the following month.
He will be sorely missed. UPDATE: Tribute by a Russian Tchaikovsky winner.
Here is the Associated Press obituary. And, below, the official announcement from the Cliburn Foundation:
Fort Worth, Texas, February 27, 2013-It is with great sadness that Carla Kemp Thompson, chairman of the Van Cliburn Foundation, acknowledges the death of Van Cliburn. Mr. Cliburn died peacefully in his home in Fort Worth, Texas, surrounded by loved ones, on February 27, 2013.
The cause of death was bone cancer. Van Cliburn was 78 years old (born July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, Louisiana – died February 27, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas). He is survived by his friend of long standing, Thomas L. Smith.
Said Thompson: “Van was a treasured member of the Fort Worth community who belonged to the world. His legacy is one of being a great humanitarian, a great musician, a great colleague, and a great friend to all who knew and loved him. Van is iconic, and we at the Van Cliburn Foundation join the international community in mourning the loss of a true giant.”
The Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano, taking place May 24-June 9, 2013, at Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall, is dedicated to the memory of Van Cliburn.
For funeral information: Thompson’s Harveson & Cole, 702 8th Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas 76104, 817.336.0345