Eugene Fodor, drug-haunted violin virtuoso, dies at 60

Eugene Fodor was the first American-born violinist to win an award in the coveted Tchaikovsky violin competition in Moscow.
Eugene Fodor was the first American-born violinist to win an award in the coveted Tchaikovsky violin competition in Moscow. (United Press International)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 9:11 PM

Eugene Fodor, 60, a violin virtuoso whose pyrotechnic style and good looks made him one of the most dazzling performers of classical music in the 1970s but who later struggled with addictions to cocaine, heroin and alcohol, died Feb. 26 at his home in Arlington County. He had liver disease, his wife, Susan Davis, said.

Raised in Colorado and trained at Juilliard, Mr. Fodor made international headlines in 1974 after taking top honors at the prestigious Tchaikovsky violin competition in Moscow, where he was the first American-born violinist to win a prize. He drew comparisons to Van Cliburn, the American pianist who had won over Russian audiences 16 years earlier.

At the height of his fame, Mr. Fodor played more than 100 concerts and earned $350,000 a year. He wowed sold-out audiences at Carnegie Hall with his passionate solo performances and near-perfect technical ability. He was a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic and was the featured performer at President Gerald Ford's first White House state dinner.

With his chiseled jaw, wavy locks and paisley bow ties, Mr. Fodor became an overnight media sensation. He was a frequent guest on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." New York magazine dubbed him the "Mick Jagger of classical music."

Comfortable in denim and snakeskin boots, Mr. Fodor was described by the New York Times as an "outdoorsman, a horseback rider, jogger, scuba diver and skirtchaser."

He could play, too. Washington Post music critic Paul Hume wrote in 1974 that Mr. Fodor performed with "immense pizazz, and many phrases are finished with a sweep of the bow that outdoes most of Fodor's forerunners."

Some critics said his repertoire relied too heavily on flashy pieces that lacked depth - a point that didn't bother Mr. Fodor much.

"Aside from technique of the highest caliber, you need the glitter," Mr. Fodor explained to The Post in 1974. "The conviction of your own style. The polish."

By the mid-1980s, Mr. Fodor's swashbuckling ways spoiled many of his professional opportunities, and his career began to swirl out of control.

He said he drank excessively, smoked marijuana, snorted cocaine and used heroin. His violin work suffered, and he became less devoted to practicing his art.

He was arrested in 1989 at a motel on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., for breaking and entering and possession of cocaine, heroin and a deadly weapon, a dagger.

He eventually entered a rehabilitation program and was sentenced to probation.

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