November 9, 2006
Composer Basil Poledouris Dead at 61
Highly respected Emmy-winner composed diverse body of work by Jon Burlingame
LOS ANGELES – Basil Poledouris, the Emmy-winning composer of Lonesome Dove and composer for such films as Conan the Barbarian, Free Willy and The Blue Lagoon, died of cancer Wednesday, Nov. 8, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 61.
Best-known for his powerful music for action-adventure films of the 1980s and '90s, Poledouris scored both of Arnold Schwarzenegger's appearances as the sword-and-sorcery hero in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984).
His orchestral-and-choral scores are today considered high points in the genre of music for fantasy films. Poledouris conducted a substantial portion of the reconstructed Conan score at a concert in Ubeda, Spain, in July.
The first Conan movie was one of several films the composer scored for director John Milius. Others included Big Wednesday (1978), Red Dawn (1984), Farewell to the King (1989) and Flight of the Intruder (1991).
He also enjoyed long professional relationships with directors Randal Kleiser (The Blue Lagoon, 1980; Summer Lovers, 1982; White Fang, 1991; It's My Party, 1996), Paul Verhoeven (Flesh and Blood, 1985; Robocop, 1987; Starship Troopers, 1997); Simon Wincer (Quigley Down Under, 1990; Free Willy, 1993); and John Waters (Serial Mom, 1994; Cecil B. DeMented, 2000).
Among Poledouris' other popular scores were The Hunt for Red October (1990), Wind (1992), and Les Miserables (1998).
In stark contrast to his testosterone-driven big-screen thrillers was his music for two television miniseries: the gentle Americana of the controversial 14-hour Amerika (1987) and the folk-based Western score for the eight-hour Lonesome Dove (1989), which won the composer an Emmy.
Poledouris was born in Kansas City, Mo., Aug. 21, 1945. He began studying piano at the age of 9, became part of a folk group in high school and studied both film and music at USC. He scored a handful of television projects in the early 1970s, but his feature scores for Big Wednesday and The Blue Lagoon – both for former USC colleagues – catapulted him into larger-scale features.
In 1996, Poledouris was commissioned to write music for the opening of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. His six-minute piece, "The Tradition of the Games," drew on his study of ancient mythology and Greek philosophy and was performed by the Atlanta Symphony and a 300-voice choir.
In recent years, Poledouris – an avid surfer and sailor – moved to Vashon Island, Wash.
He is survived by his former wife Bobbie; two daughters, Zoe and Alexis; his mother and brother. A private family service is planned. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations in his name be made to the Catalina Conservancy or the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation.
©2006 Jon Burlingame