The Washington Post

Marvin Hamlisch: His three best movie ballads

Marvin Hamlisch — the award-winning composer who created or arranged some of the most memorable melodies in stage and cinema history — died suddenly Monday at the age of 68. According to the Associated Press, he collapsed and died after a brief illness that has not yet been identified.

View Photo Gallery : Marvin Hamlisch, who composed or arranged the scores for dozens of movies including “The Sting,” and the Broadway smash “A Chorus Line,” has died in Los Angeles. He was 68.

The premature passing of an artist who was both prolific and accomplished — he was one of those rare individuals who had achieved the EGOT, winning four Emmys, four Grammys, three Oscars and a Tony — is a shock. As his family, friends and longtime fans begin to process his death, they will undoubtedly turn to his music.

Many of his compositions — like the music for “A Chorus Line” or his score for “The Sting,” which featured a reimagined take on “The Entertainer” that became a legitimate pop smash — were upbeat and buoyant. But he was also revered for his ability to write poignant movie ballads, songs that broke hearts and turned dry eyes wet.

Here’s a tribute to what I consider to be his three most memorable contributions in that category. Add to the list by sharing your favorite Hamlisch musical achievements in the comments section.

“Nobody Does It Better” from “The Spy Who Loved Me”

Arguably the most memorable thing about the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me,” was its theme song, a major hit composed by Hamlisch and sung by Carly Simon. It’s so timeless that 35 years later, it still sounds great, whether done by Simon or, later, Radiohead.

Simon, singing it in 1987:

And Radiohead, bringing its unique Thom Yorke-ness to the proceedings.

“Through the Eyes of Love (Theme from ‘Ice Castles’)”

Some people cannot listen to even a few notes of this song without a. weeping; b. fondly thinking of Robby Benson; or c. both.

“The Way We Were”

The piece of music for which Hamlisch is best known is also one of the great movie love songs of all time. It’s difficult to strip away all the contexts in which we’ve heard it: poignant (as it was in the 1973 movie of the same name), intentionally comedic (as performed by Gilda Radner as Lisa Lupner) or, sometimes, both (see Tom Hanks in “Big”). But try to listen to it without all its pop cultural baggage. There’s a reason why it’s a song that, decades later, remains synonymous with post-loss heartbreak and makes it so fitting to listen to today, following Hamlisch’s untimely death.

When she isn’t at a movie theater or writing about movies, Jen Chaney is ... um ... probably at home, watching a movie.


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