January 29, 2014
Kojak Composer John Cacavas Dead at 83
Emmy-nom'd scorer's numerous film and TV credits include Airport 1975, Hawaii Five-O, Columbo by Jon Burlingame
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—John Cacavas, the composer of scores for Airport 1975 and many episodes of TV's Kojak, died Tuesday after a lengthy illness. He was 83.
Cacavas was a fixture on the film and TV scene throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and then he was also a major contributor to music in the school field, publishing more than 2,000 works for symphonic band, orchestra, chorus and chamber ensemble.
His first major feature credit was Horror Express (1972), although he catapulted to prominence with the disaster movies Airport 1975 (1974) and Airport '77 (1977). His longtime friendship with actor Telly Savalas led to a long tenure on the Kojak series (1973-78), including the series theme for its fifth and final season on CBS.
Cacavas earned two Emmy nominations for original music for a series, one for a third-season episode of Kojak ("A Question of Answers," 1975) and one for the Joe Don Baker police series Eischied ("Only the Pretty Girls Die," part II, 1979). He scored more than 100 episodes of Kojak and nearly two dozen episodes of Hawaii Five-0.
His other TV credits included multiple episodes of Mrs. Columbo, B.J. and the Bear, The Equalizer, Matlock, Lady Blue and Columbo. He scored numerous TV movies and miniseries including the critically praised The Executioner's Song (1982), A Death in California (1985), Margaret Bourke-White (1989) and the Jack Higgins thriller Confessional (1989).
Among his other TV-movie credits were SST: Death Flight, Murder at the World Series, Superdome, The Time Machine, Hellinger's Law, Child Bride of Short Creek, Jenny's War and others. His last credits were for the TV-movies The Return of Ironside (1993) and Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenet and the City of Boulder (2000), and the theme for the video game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (2005).
In the early 1980s he was president of the Composers & Lyricists Guild of America, the union of film composers, and he also served on the ASCAP Board of Directors. In recent years, Cacavas hosted the annual Society of Composers & Lyricists reception for Oscar music nominees at his home in Beverly Hills.
He was born Aug. 13, 1930, in Aberdeen, S.D., and studied music at Northwestern University. He later became an arranger for the U.S. Army Band; wrote an oratorio, The Conversion of Paul, with later-famous CBS radio personality Charles Osgood; served as assistant conductor at CBS in New York; and as director of publications at music publisher Chappell & Company.
His albums included Gallant Men (1966), narrated by Sen. Everett Dirksen; The Name Is Bond, James Bond (1993) with the London Symphony Orchestra; and Behind the Scenes (2000), a collection of his own themes for films and TV.
Cacavas penned a memoir, It's More Than Do-Re-Mi: My Life in Music (2003) with his wife, Bonnie Becker Cacavas, who survives him. He earlier wrote two instructional books, Music Arranging and Orchestration (1985) and The Art of Writing Music: A Practical Book for Composers and Arrangers (1993), and later wrote a novel, A Song for Lynbidium (2007). Also surviving are three children and three grandchildren.
Donations may be made to the John Cacavas Memorial, Aberdeen Public School Foundation, 1224 3rd Street South, Aberdeen, SD 57401.