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23 June 2015, 07:12 | Updated: 25 June 2015, 14:11
James Horner, winner of two Academy Awards and composer of film soundtracks including Titanic, Braveheart and Aliens, died while piloting his own small aircraft. He was 61.
Horner, a keen aviator and owner of several aircraft, was flying around the Ventucopa area, north of Santa Barbara, when reports of a downed plane emerged on Monday. Horner's S-312 Tucano MK1 turbo-prop plane crashed around 9.30am local time in the Los Padres national forest, according to Ventura County fire service. The two-seater plane was carrying no other passengers.
Horner’s attorney confirmed that he was missing, but a later Facebook post from Horner’s assistant, Sylvia Patrycja, confirmed that he had died in the crash. She wrote, "We have lost an amazing person with a huge heart, and unbelievable talent. He died doing what he loved."
Born in 1953, Horner was a music enthusiast from early on in his life. After writing some music for the concert hall in the 1970s, his career in film music was long and distinguished. He began composing for the movies in the 1980s, working extensively with B-movie director Roger Corman.
Later, he became in-demand for his blockbusting scores. Throughout the 1980s he scored hits with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Cocoon, Aliens, Willow and Field of Dreams.
Major breakthroughs in the 1990s for Horner included 1997’s Titanic, which earned him two Oscars in one night for the film’s score and for its theme song, Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’.
More recently, Horner's film compositions have included 2009’s Avatar, directed by James Cameron, which Horner described as “the most difficult film I have worked on and the biggest job I have undertaken”.
Throughout his career, Horner earned 10 Academy Award nominations, for films including Aliens, A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13. He enjoys the distinction of having written the scores for the two highest grossing movies of all time - Avatar and Titanic.
In 2014, Horner returned to non-movie compositions, writing his own double concerto for violin and cello, named Pas de Deux. Horner spoke to Classic FM about the process of writing it.
“I guess I’ve come full circle in a way. I have sort of achieved what I wanted to achieve in the film world and felt I needed to develop a new skill set to be able to write a successful concert piece or ballet,” he wrote.
“So I will be writing serious music, trying to still make a living in film in between, and seeing how that develops.”
Celine Dion paid tribute to Horner, saying: "He will always remain a great composer in our hearts. James played an important part in my career. We will miss him. We offer his family and friends our deepest sympathy."
Classic FM's Catherine Bott, who worked with Horner nearly 30 years ago, said: “I sang in the choir on Horner's first ever soundtrack recording in London, 29 summers ago. He was so knocked out with us, and the LSO, that at the end of the sessions he laid on strawberries and cream and fizz for everyone in the Abbey Road canteen.”
Here's one of Horner's best-known recordings, An Ocean of Memories, from the Titanic soundtrack:
And here's one of his more obscure, but equally brilliant, works: Ride of the Firemares from the fantasy movie Krull.