By T. Rees Shapiro
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.
Mr. Fodor's career never recovered.
"I think that cocaine was sort of a crutch for me," he told CBS News in 1996. It helped him "rid myself of the pain of not having the career that I felt would make me happy."
Eugene Nicholas Fodor Jr. was born in Denver on March 5, 1950. He grew up on a ranch near Turkey Creek, Colo.
His father was a contractor and amateur violinist who pressured his two sons to practice for hours at a time.
His older brother, John, was a longtime violinist with the Denver Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Fodor became a child prodigy and gave his first concert at age 8 to a crowd of nuns at a local convent. He studied at the Juilliard School in New York and later under celebrated violinist Jascha Heifetz, who kicked Mr. Fodor out of his program for disciplinary reasons.
After winning the 1972 Paganini violin competition in Italy, Mr. Fodor was a favorite in the Tchaikovsky competition two years later.
Mr. Fodor played so rapturously that he received a five-minute ovation, and Russian women sent bouquets to his Moscow hotel room.
Ultimately, no gold medal was given. News reports indicated that the results might have been sabotaged by a North Vietnamese judge, who reportedly blew smoke rings during Mr. Fodor's performance. The American violinist ended up sharing the silver medal with two Russians.
Until recent years, as he continued to battle substance abuse, Mr. Fodor gave concerts around the country, though never on the grand stages he once played.
Mr. Fodor's marriages to Susan Davis and Sally Svetland ended in divorce. In November 2010, he remarried Davis and moved into her home in Arlington.
Besides his wife, survivors include their three children, Daniella Davis of Newport Beach, Calif., Lindsay Davis of Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Dylan Davis of Washington; a brother; a sister; and two grandchildren.
"These past few months have been hard, but it was a blessing," Davis said. "He was able to reconnect with his children, whose lives he had never really been a part of."