Van Cliburn Dies: Legendary Classical Pianist Passes Away At 78

Van Cliburn, a gifted pianist famous for winning the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow, died Wednesday morning at his home near Fort Worth. He was 78.

Cliburn had been diagnosed with advanced and aggressive bone cancer in August, according to NBCDFW.

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Cliburn began taking piano lessons at the age of three from his mother, a gifted pianist had been instructed by Arthur Friedheim, a pupil of Franz Liszt. At the age of 12, Cliburn made his orchestral debut with the Houston Symphony Orchestra and after graduating highschool at the age of 17, he enrolled at the famed Julliard School in New York City.

In 1958, at the height of the Cold War, Cliburn became an American hero by winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Cliburn’s performance earned him an 8-minute standing ovation and the judge’s praises. Time Magazine declared him “The Texan Who Conquered Russia,” saying his victory was instrumental in taking the chill off of the tense global setting at the time.

Cliburn’s career skyrocketed after his Moscow win. In addition to selling out multiple concerts and causing riots at many of the venues where he was scheduled to perform, Van would go on to play for every president since Harry Truman winning a host of awards along the way.

Cliburn made what would be his last public appearance in September at the Van Cliburn Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Gold Medalists Concert. Speaking to the audience in Fort Worth, he saluted the many past contestants, the orchestra and the city.

“Never forget I love you all from the bottom of my heart, forever,” he said to the audience before waving and exiting the stage to another standing ovation.

In memory of Van Cliburn’s life, here is a look back at some of his greatest accomplishments as a world-renowned pianist: