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Van Cliburn, pianist and Cold War hero, dies at 78

February 27, 2013 • National News


FILE – This July 12, 2003 file photo shows pianist Van Cliburn after performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as the Orchestra plays “Happy Birthday,” on his 69th birthday at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. Cliburn, the internationally celebrated pianist whose triumph at a 1958 Moscow competition helped thaw the Cold War and launched a spectacular career that made him the rare classical musician to enjoy rock star status died early Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, at his Fort Worth home following a battle with bone cancer. He was 78. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, file)

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — For a time in Cold War America, Van Cliburn had all the trappings of a rock star: sold-out concerts, adoring, out-of-control fans and a name recognized worldwide. He even got a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

And he did it all with only a piano and some Tchaikovsky concertos.

The celebrated pianist played for every American president since Harry Truman, plus royalty and heads of state around the world. But he is best remembered for winning a 1958 piano competition in Moscow that helped thaw the icy rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Cliburn, who died Wednesday at 78 after fighting bone cancer, was “a great humanitarian and a brilliant musician whose light will continue to shine through his extraordinary legacy,” said his publicist and longtime friend Mary Lou Falcone. “He will be missed by all who knew and admired him, and by countless people he never met.”

The young man from the small east Texas town of Kilgore was a baby-faced 23-year-old when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow just six months after the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik embarrassed the U.S. and inaugurated the space race.

Cliburn returned to a hero’s welcome and the ticker-tape parade — the first ever for a classical musician. A Time magazine cover proclaimed him “The Texan Login to read more

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