John Barry, Oscar-winning film composer who defined the musical identity of James Bond and over 100 films, has died in New York at age 77. Barry’s distinctive scores forged an indelible career in motion picture scoring, his compositions earning five Academy Awards for BORN FREE(Best Score, Best Song 1966), THE LION IN WINTER (1968), OUT OF AFRICA (1985) and DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990). Barry received two other Oscar nominations for scoring MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (1971) and CHAPLIN in 1993, and two BAFTA awards for OUT OF AFRICA and DANCES WITH WOLVES.
Spanning an artistically expansive career scoring films since 1960, Barry is perhaps best known popularly for his contributions to the music for 11 James Bond films, starting with his uncredited (and unfortunately disputed) addition of the iconic guitar riff to Monty Norman’s 007 theme for the first Bond film adventure DR. NO in 1962. While Norman received composing credit and did not dispute Barry’s orchestration work on the film, the actual arranging credit for the theme itself went unresolved.
Barry went on to compose scores for over half of the subsequent Bond feature films, including his signature score and theme song for GOLDFINGER along with 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. While the faces of James Bond changed over the decades, John Barry’s inimitable style remained consistently masterful across the franchise for over twenty years.
Barry’s work ventured into vasty different genres of films including the gritty Jon Voight/Dustin Hoffman 1969 character drama of MIDNIGHT COWBOY (another uncredited work) to director Lawrence Kasdan’s steamy neo-noir thriller BODY HEAT (1981). Among his fan-favorite movie scores are SOMEWHERE IN TIME, ROBIN AND MARIAN, THE COTTON CLUB, Dino DeLaurentiis’ remake of KING KONG (1976) and Disney’s sci-fi cult venture THE BLACK HOLE.
The composer’s use of rich, powerful horns in his orchestrations might have been Barry’s most notable signature flair, as evidenced in the brassy boldness of his Bond themes to the wistful sense of adventure and discovery embodied by Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) in OUT OF AFRICA and John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) in DANCES WITH WOLVES. Indeed, Barry himself confessed a lifelong fondness for stories of adventure and epic action in a 1999 interview with the Guardian newspaper, stating “Rather than talkie-talkie movies, I liked films with excitement and adventure, because they were the ones that had the music.”
Barry was a trained pianist who later learned the trumpet and founded his own jazz group, the John Barry Seven, in 1957. The opportunity to work on the first Bond film arose from his pop success with a couple of instrumental hits between then and 1962’s DR. NO.
Numerous film directors including Sir Richard Attenborough, Steven Spielberg and Sydney Pollack all praised his distinctive, invaluable work in film history and those who worked directly with the composer often lauded Barry’s collaborations. Nearly countless musicians, singers and fellow composers respected, honored and even referenced Barry’s score creations, as subsequent Bond franchise scorer David Arnold has thrived carrying on the torch Barry illuminated over forty years ago.
John Barry has been and will remain a favorite film composer here at FilmEdge, and we salute his life and life’s work in cinema score history. Enjoy just a couple samples of Barry’s indelible work below in remembrance.