Van Cliburn, the famous classical pianist, died today at his home in Fort Worth, Texas. He was 78 years old, and, according to a Feb. 27 report by CNN, he had battled bone cancer. He had gone public with his illness last August and was known for his sunny attitude.
Van Cliburn became famous after winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958, after which he was met with a ticker tape parade in New York. His success in this lofty competition was a source of pride for America after the Soviet Union had just launched Sputnik I, much to everyone’s surprise.
Van Cliburn was somewhat of an ambassador for classical music around the world, having toured the Soviet Union several times during the Cold War tensions. He was considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, and he performed for every United States president since Harry Truman.
You can view a video of one of his performances to the left of this article.
At the end of the ticker tape parade in 1958, he addressed the crowd. His words, as reported by CNN, explain the story of his life more than any other could.
"I appreciate more than you will ever know that you are honoring me, but the thing that thrills me the most is that you are honoring classical music. Because I'm only one of many. I'm only a witness and a messenger.”