Van Cliburn, the Texas native who became the most acclaimed pianist of the second half the 20th century, has died, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and other outlets are reporting. He was 78. He revealed last fall that he had cancer.
Cliburn shot to fame in his early 20s, winning the first Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow during the height of the Cold War. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine and received a hero’s welcome in the U.S., including a ticker-tape parade. His subsequent early recordings were huge best sellers.
Beyond his power behind the keys, however, was his influence behind the scenes. He founded the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, a quadrennial celebration of great young musicians, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
While many outlets reported correctly that Cliburn was deeply religious, few mentioned that he was also gay, making him one of our most honored but under-recognized icons.