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John Barry, composer for James Bond movies and other films, dies at 77

Barry Five-time Oscar-winning composer John Barry, who wrote music for a dozen James Bond films including "You Only Live Twice" and "Goldfinger," and developed the twanging guitar riff for the theme music in the suave spy movies, has died. He was 77.

Barry died Sunday in New York, where had lived for some time, his family said. No cause of death was given.

Though his work on the Bond films is among his most famous, the English-born composer wrote a long list of scores, including for "Midnight Cowboy," "Dances with Wolves" and "Body Heat." He was proud of writing both for big action blockbusters and smaller films.

He won two Oscars for "Born Free" in 1966, for best score and best song. He also earned Oscars for the scores to "The Lion in Winter" (1968), "Out of Africa" (1985) and "Dances with Wolves" (1990).

His association with Agent 007 began with "Dr. No" in 1962, although his contribution to that film was not credited and is in dispute.

Monty Norman, who was credited as the composer for "Dr. No," sued the Sunday Times in 2001 for reporting that Barry had composed the theme, working from scraps of Norman's work. Norman won the case, collecting 30,000 pounds ($48,000).

Barry testified that he was paid 250 pounds to work on the theme music, developing the guitar line from part of Norman's song "Bad Sign, Good Sign," but agreed that Norman would get the credit. Norman does not dispute Barry's orchestration.

In later years, Barry limited his comment on the case to saying, "If I didn't write it, why did they ask me to do the other ones?"

He subsequently wrote music for "Goldfinger," "From Russia with Love," "Thunderball," "You Only Live Twice," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," "Diamonds are Forever," "The Man with the Golden Gun," "Moonraker," "Octopussy," "A View to a Kill" and "The Living Daylights."

Born John Barry Prendergast, he recalled growing up "exposed to the fantasy life of Hollywood" at the eight theaters his father owned in northern England.

"Rather than talkie-talkie movies, I liked films with excitement and adventure, because they were the ones that had the music," Barry said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper in 1999.

"It was nice to have the very commercial Bondian thing ... and then at the same time have these smaller movies, which were artistically more interesting to do," he said.

Other films included "Robin and Marian," "Somewhere in Time," "The Cotton Club," "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Howard the Duck." He was also nominated for Oscars for his scores of "Mary, Queen of Scots" in 1971 and "Chaplin" in 1992.

Barry trained as a pianist, studied counterpoint with York cathedral organist Francis Jackson, and later took up the trumpet. He founded a jazz group, the John Barry Seven, in 1957.

The group teamed with singer Adam Faith, scoring hits with "What Do You Want?" and "Poor Me," and Barry moved into film work when Faith was tapped to star in "Beat Girl" (titled "Living for Kicks" in the United States).

"The James Bond movies came because we were successful in the pop music world, with a couple of big instrumental hits. They thought I knew how to write instrumental hit music," Barry said in 1991.

In an interview in 2008 with the Irish Times, Barry said his success "was not that difficult."

"If you hit the right formula, if you have an instinct for music, if you apply it, if you have the good fortune to meet with certain people who teach you well ... I didn't find it all that difficult," he said.

More at Pop & Hiss, The Times' pop music blog, and later at

-- Associated Press

Photo: John Barry in 2000. Credit: EPA


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John Barry wrote the soundtrack for my life. OHMSS was the first record I ever bought (and I went through 4 copies until CDs). We bought Sony Walkmen just to listen to OHMSS while skiing down Mammoth Mountain. At our wedding, we played 007, Somewhere in Time, and High Road to China. My all time favorite is Raise the Titanic. No one wrote music that evoked romance, grandeur, excitement, or, especially, nostalgia for a bygone era like Barry. I will miss him greatly.

-Ted Michon

John Barry was - simply - one of the best composers that ever lived. One only needs to listen to his score for "Out of Africa" to see that. I remember, quite fondly, sitting on the floor of my parents den listening to his "Best of Bond" album, so much so that I literally wore out the record. His score for "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is one of the best action pieces ever written. But, it was his highly-seductive style of "Thunderball" (the entire album, really) that will stay with me forever. I listened to that album/tape many times while on scuba diving trips in the Bahamas. It captured every nuance of that fabled island-- perhaps one of the most romantic and rawly seductive film scores ever written. I'm running out of superlatives here when describing this man's immense talent, his soaring contribution to film. He helped to make James Bond the biggest film icon of the 2oth century... A staggering loss to Hollywood legend. Rest In Peace, John

John Barry wrote magic-pure and simple. His scores for "Somewhere In Time", "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Out of Africa" made each of those movies live in your mind long after the credits faded. I still get tears in my eyes just at the images his music for "Peggy Sue" bring. And for "Somewhere"-his themes brought the love story to another level. Thank you, Mr. Barry, for writing the soundtrack of many of our lives.

John Barry wrote the magnificent score for one of the greatest movies of all-time, "Midnight Cowboy." Thus, unbelievably, one of the greatest, most moving film scores in history was mated to a film which itself is widely considered to be among the top five best films of all time. The world owes a big "Thank you" to Mr. Barry for enriching the lives of many millions of people.

He did not write the Bond theme. Monty Norman did. I am a composer also. I scored The Paper Chase series on CBS and Showtime.

We lost one of the greatest composers of romantic symphonics ever. Somewhere in Time and especially High Road to China, Out of Africa, on and on. You can just pick out a John Barry melody instantly. He pulls you in with such fervor into the high notes and growls deep in your gut with the lower notes. What a loss at such an early age.

My sincere condolences to the Barry family...
As a daily listener of his works, both while driving (Bond & Out of Africa)
and while working at the computer, I can say with all certainty that his ear for tone and harmonics was equaled by no other film composer. In fact, the seminal soundtrack CD of all time IS "The Living Daylights" (1987), with used copies sometimes fetching hundreds of dollars. Yes, Mr. Barry has been the soundtrack to my existence for years now. I hope more people will take the time to really listen to each of his scores in its entirety.

He must have kept this quote around somewhere in his studio:
"Our battle, our struggle, is to create art. Our weapon is the moving picture. Because we have the moving picture, our paintings will grow and recede; our poetry will be shadows that lengthen and conceal; our light will play across living faces that laugh and agonize; and our music will linger and finally overwhelm, because it will have a context as certain as the grave. We are scientists engaged in the creation of memory... but our memory will neither blur nor fade." -F.W. Murnau

Your music will forever be a wondrous comfort and I thank you for that Mr. Barry.

Oh, really bad news for today :/ Another really talented man died...five Oscars speak for themselves...

John Barry's music was critical to the success of Bond pictures becoming iconic in the culture. Without his music, Bond would be just another spy movie. He had the ability to create visceral sensations when you heard his scores. I will miss him and his music greatly. "You only live twice"...once for yourself and forever in recordings.


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