With influences ranging from Beethoven to the Beatles and collaborations with everyone from Bob Dylan to Metallica, there are few musicians that display such remarkable diversity as Oscar-nominated composer and conductor Michael Kamen. His scores for such popular action films as Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and X-Men set something of a standard for high-octane thrills, but Kamen could also switch gears to provide tender melodies for such movies as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Don Juan DeMarco (both of which earned Oscar nods for the longtime composer).
The New York native's talent for music was evident from his early days, with his attendance at New York City's High School of Music and Art offering the perfect environment in which to nourish his skills. It was there that teachers first became aware of how diverse Kamen's talents truly were. Though there were few students who were equally adept at classical and bluegrass, the emerging composer's masterful handing of various musical genres certainly set him apart from the pack. Upon graduation, Kamen continued to hone his skills by studying the oboe at New York's famed Juilliard School. It was there that he and a group of fellow students formed the rock-classical fusion group New York Rock & Roll Ensemble -- whose performance on Leonard Bernstein's (the man who actually introduced Kamen to symphonic composition and arrangement) first Young People's Concert with the New York Philharmonic offered an enticing early glimpse at Kamen's talent. The group's work on the music for the 1971 "electric Western" Zachariah even opened the door to Hollywood for the emerging composer.
In the years that followed, Kamen's work was increasingly geared toward ballet, with his work on the 1976 feature The Next Man moving ever closer to Hollywood than previously expected. That trajectory continued when Kamen collaborated with legendary rock band Pink Floyd on their groundbreaking album The Wall, and in the following years, his celluloid credits continued to grow, with work on such features as Polyester, The Dead Zone, and Brazil serving to increase his profile in the world of film. Kamen's adrenalized score for the 1987 action blockbuster Lethal Weapon -- as well as his equally pulse-pounding score for the following year's Die Hard (and the sequels for both films) -- earned him something of a reputation as an "action composer." Kamen's touching ballad "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" (performed by pop star Bryan Adams) from the 1991 feature Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves went to number one on the charts, with Kamen and Adams finding later success with the song "Have You Every Really Loved a Woman" from Don Juan DeMarco. Both songs were nominated for Academy Awards, and though the Oscar would ultimately elude him, Kamen took home numerous BMI Film and Television awards for his work and won a Grammy for "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You."
Kamen was increasingly busy in Hollywood throughout the 1990s; his compositions for such features as Mr. Holland's Opus, The Iron Giant, Frequency, and X-Men added the sort of cinematic texture and dimension that few composers could offer. His work on Mr. Holland's Opus, in particular, even resulted in Kamen founding the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation -- an organization dedicated to supporting music education and providing instruments to students in under-supported schools. Kamen continued to remain active outside of the film world as well, and side projects included work with such artists as Sting and Eric Clapton, as well as groundbreaking work on the multi-platinum Metallica album S&M, a collection of experimental metal/orchestral arrangements. Later film work included scores for the acclaimed HBO series Band of Brothers, the Kevin Costner Western Open Range, and the 2004 teen comedy First Daughter. Sadly, the world of film lost a notable contributor when, in mid-November of 2003, the talented composer died of a sudden heart attack in his London home. Kamen was 55.