Composer Marvin Hamlisch won three Oscars, four Emmys and a Tony Award.
(USA TODAY) -- The film and Broadway communities suffered an unexpected blow on Tuesday, when Marvin Hamlisch, one of their most prolific and enduringly popular composers, died at 68, after a brief, unspecified illness.
Perhaps best known for his work on the beloved musical A Chorus Line and movies The Way We Were and The Sting, Hamlisch also wrote the scores for celebrated films such as Ordinary People, Sophie's Choice and Take the Money and Run, and contributed to the James Bond hit The Spy Who Loved Me, co-writing Nobody Does It Better with Carole Bayer Sager.
For his efforts, Hamlisch earned entry into that elite club of artists who have received Tony, Emmy, Grammy and Academy Awards. He won four Emmys and three Oscars, the third for his adaptation of Scott Joplin's ragtime music featured in The Sting.
His Broadway credits, in addition to the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning A Chorus Line, included They're Playing Our Song, The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success. The last show, though not a critical hit, was notable for giving musical theater star Kelli O'Hara her first principal Broadway role.
Hamlisch was also a prolific arranger and conductor, leading symphony orchestras across the country. The youngest student ever accepted into New York's prestigious Juilliard School - he began studies there at age 7 - he got his start on Broadway as a rehearsal pianist and assistant vocal arranger for Funny Girl, starring Barbra Streisand, for whom he would later compose The Way We Were.
His work on Broadway also included arrangements and orchestrations for Liza Minnelli's triumphant 2008 return Liza at the Palace and the earlier engagements Minnelli on Minnelli (1999) and Liza (1974). He also provided music for the 1984 special Shirley MacLaine on Broadway.
"Marvin and I have been best friends since I was 13 years old," Minnelli said in a statement, noting that he had also arranged songs for her first and second albums, for Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli at the London Palladium "and just about everything else."
Streisand also issued a statement, which read in part, "The world will remember Marvin for his brilliant musical accomplishments ... (but) it was his brilliantly quick mind, his generosity and delicious sense of humor that made him a delight to be around. Just last night, I was trying to reach him, to tell him how much I loved him, and that I wanted to use an old song of his that I had just heard for the first time."
The veteran performer and standards champion Michael Feinstein, who had joined Hamlisch recently in a concert with the Pasadena Pops, described him to USA TODAY as "one of the most immensely creative people I ever know. He was a true musical genius, unfettered by labels. Even last month, he still had the enthusiasm of a 20 year old, with so many creative ideas. It would have taken 10 lifetimes to accomplish what Marvin had inside him."
Several Broadway insiders expressed regrets on Twitter. Fellow stage and screen composer Alan Menken tweeted, "So shocked about Marvin Hamlisch's sudden passing! What a loss. R.I.P. His songs and scores will live on. And we will treasure knowing him." Acclaimed singer/actress Audra McDonald, remembered him as "an amazing composer and a bundle of light." Betty Buckley added, "Such a lovely, gracious, talented man. Such a loss."
Hamlisch's new musical adaptation of the film The Nutty Professor made its world premiere in July at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. The composer had been scheduled to fly to Nashville this week to see the Broadway-bound production.
He was working on another musical as well, Gotta Dance, and had written the score for Behind the Candleabra, an upcoming HBO movie about Liberace. And Hamlisch was expected to lead the New York Philharmonic at its next New Year's Eve concert.
While Hamlisch's sweeping, unabashedly sentimental style didn't always earn him rave reviews, he seemed content with the wide appeal that so much of his music retained over decades.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with doing a very wondrous, fabulous, commercial show," he told Broadwayworld.com in a 2010 interview. "There's nothing wrong with the word 'commercial.' "