Marvin Hamlisch died last week at the age of 68. When I first heard the news, it was strangely surreal to me, not because he died, that is, afterall, the ultimate journey for all of us, but because he represented so much of the music that had been and will be part of us forever. As I mentioned his passing to friends, the reaction was mixed, usually sympathetic, not very nostalgic and, for the most part, clueless. “Who was Marvin Hamlisch?” “What did he do?” “Hmmmm, okay, I knew that song, that’s too bad he died.” This struck me as a sad testament to at least the focus of my generation’s knowledge of greatness in the arts and it pointed out to me that, I’m still an honest to goodness music geek at heart.
What did Hamlisch do during his lifetime? Well, for one thing, he won Emmys, Oscars, Tonys, Grammys, Golden Globes and even a Pulitzer Prize for his work. In fact, he was recognized as the only composer who won all of these awards from every different arena of entertainment. He created the music from everything from the “Sting,” to “Ice Castles,” “A Chorus Line,” “The Way We Were,” “Sunshine, Lollipops and Roses,” and the themes for “Late Night with David Letterman” and “Good Morning America.” Oh, and don’t forget “Three Men and a Baby,” “The Informant,” “Sophie’s Choice,” and literally dozens of others.
His musical, “A Chorus Line” was the first reality musical, a musical that “swept audiences off their feet and created a demand for tickets so huge that the show ran seemingly forever.” As a musical, it ran longer than anything had ever run on Broadway. Oh, yeah, and in his spare time, he had been the director of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Pops Orchestra for the past 17 years. That’s right, Pittsburgh. Well, he did direct a few other pops orchestras: Milwaukee, San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, Buffalo, the National Symphony and the Pasadena Symphony and Pops.
“So, who cares,” some of you might ask, and there-in is the problem. Who cares, indeed? If you’re over 40, and none of these songs ever moved you in any way, then I’d suggest that you’re probably right to feel detached from the loss of this unbelievable talent, but if, like me, all of his music is tucked somewhere deep in your memories, your spirit, and your heart, then you have to realize that, unlike the untimely demise of a retired athlete, Marvin Hamlisch was a creative genius who never stopped creating, composing and delivering his own rare form of beauty to this planet, and he is gone.