Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer whose symphonic scores backed everything from spaghetti westerns to romance, horror and sci-fi films, has died aged 91.
Morricone had broken his femur days ago and died during the night in a clinic in Rome. His death was confirmed by his lawyer, Giorgio Assumma. In a statement, Assumma said that the composer “died at dawn on 6 July in Rome with the comfort of faith. He preserved until the final moment full lucidity and great dignity.
“He said goodbye to his beloved wife Maria, who accompanied him with dedication in every moment of his human and professional life and was close to him until his final breath, and thanked his children and grandchildren for the love and care they have given him. He gave a touching remembrance to his audience, whose affectionate support always enabled him to draw strength for his creativity.”
Film composer Hans Zimmer was among those paying tribute, saying he was “devastated … Ennio was an icon and icons just don’t go away, icons are forever … his music was always outstanding, and done with great emotional fortitude and great intellectual thought”.
Born in Rome in 1928, Morricone took up the trumpet and wrote his first composition aged six. He studied classical music and after graduating began writing scores for theatre and radio. He was hired as an arranger by the label RCA in Italy and also began writing for pop artists; his songs became hits for Paul Anka, Françoise Hardy and Demis Roussos, and he later collaborated with Pet Shop Boys. He also made boundary-pushing avant garde work with Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza, a collective of experimental, improvisational composers.
But it was his film scores that brought him the most fame. He began in the mid-1950s as a ghostwriter on films credited to others, but his collaborations with Luciano Salce, beginning with Il Federale (The Fascist), established his name.
Morricone went on to work in almost all film genres, and some of his melodies are perhaps more famous than the films for which he wrote them. Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s 1971 film Maddalena is little remembered today, but Morricone’s two pieces for the film, Come Maddalena and Chi Mai, are among his most loved, the latter reaching No 2 in the UK Top 40 following its reuse in the BBC drama series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.
His 1960s scores for Sergio Leone, backing a moody Clint Eastwood in the Dollars trilogy, were huge successes and came to define him: with their whistling melodies, and blend of symphonic elements with gunshots and guitars, they evoke the entire western genre. “The music is indispensable, because my films could practically be silent movies, the dialogue counts for relatively little, and so the music underlines actions and feelings more than the dialogue,” Leone has said. Morricone has said his own best work was for Leone’s 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America.
Those films, and Morricone’s scores, were a clear influence on Quentin Tarantino who hired him for his western The Hateful Eight. It earned Morricone his first Oscar outside of his lifetime achievement award. Tarantino also used his music in Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, with Morricone writing an original song for the latter.
Other films he scored include The Thing (directed by John Carpenter), Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore), The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo), Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick), The Untouchables (Brian de Palma) and the La Cage aux Folles trilogy (Édouard Molinaro).
He frequently toured highlights from his catalogue, and was still conducting his orchestra in 2019. He sold more than 70m albums, and as well as his two Academy awards, he won four Grammy awards and six Baftas.
The British film director Edgar Wright paid tribute on Twitter. “Where to even begin with iconic composer Ennio Morricone? He could make an average movie into a must see, a good movie into art, and a great movie into legend. He hasn’t been off my stereo my entire life. What a legacy of work he leaves behind. RIP.”
The electronic music duo Orbital called him “a great influence. One of the best film composers of all time.” Video game designer Hideo Kojima, who used the 1971 Morricone and Joan Baez song Here’s to You in the Metal Gear Solid series, said he was “shocked to know Ennio Morricone has passed away. RIP.”