FORT WORTH, TEXAS: Van Cliburn, the internationally celebrated pianist whose triumph at a 1958 Moscow competition helped thaw the Cold War and launched a spectacular career that made him the rare classical musician to enjoy rock-star status, died Wednesday after a fight with bone cancer. He was 78.
Cliburn died at his home in Fort Worth surrounded by loved ones, said his publicist and longtime friend Mary Lou Falcone.
The Grammy winner had made his last public appearance in September at the 50th anniversary of the prestigious piano competition in Fort Worth named in his honor.
Cliburn skyrocketed to fame when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at age 23 in 1958, six months after the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik embarrassed the United States and propelled the world into the space age. He triumphantly returned to a New York City ticker tape parade — the first ever for a classical musician.
In the years that followed, Cliburn’s popularity soared. After the death of his father in 1974, Cliburn announced he would soon retire to spend more time with his ailing mother. He stopped touring in 1978.
In 2003, President George W. Bush presented Cliburn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor.