Composer, conductor and arranger Michael Kamen, who led the San Francisco Symphony in its collaboration with Metallica for the band’s 1999 S&M album, died at home in London of an apparent heart attack Tuesday (November 18), according to his publicist. He was 55.
Known for being something of a rock and roll classicist, in 1974 Kamen served as musical director for David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs tour, and he’s worked on orchestrations for Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Queen, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan. In 1991 he arranged an orchestral version of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” for MTV’s 10th anniversary celebration, but it was S&M that truly introduced him to the consciousness of today’s young rock fans.
The album, whose title is short forSymphony & Metallica, was the culmination of two shows the seemingly opposing forces staged in Berkeley, California, in April 1999. Kamen, Metallica and the orchestra even took their show on the road, performing in New York and Berlin as well as at the Billboard Music Awards. The album sold more than 2.6 million copies and earned Kamen a Best Rock Instrumental Performance Grammy for “The Call of Ktulu.”
Kamen was also known for his scores and soundtracks, including music for the sci-fi comedy “Brazil,” “Lethal Weapon” (for which he collaborated with Clapton), “Die Hard,” “Road House,” James Bond’s “Licensed to Kill,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “X-Men” and other films.
Working with Bryan Adams and producer Robert John “Mutt” Lang (Def Leppard, Shania Twain), Kamen earned his first Academy Award nomination, as well as another Grammy, for “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” from the 1991 film “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” The soundtrack also won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. His second Oscar nod came for the score of 1995’s “Don Juan DeMarco,” which also won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement.
Kamen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago but only went public with his illness in September, when he was honored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at a gala dinner. In one of his last interviews, with trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter, he said he never let the disease control his life.
“People in general ask me, ‘Are you all right? Are you in pain?’ ” he told the magazine. “There really is no pain. There is some discomfort, and my walking isn’t as good as it used to be, but I’m still able to conduct; I’m still able to get onstage and offstage; I’m still playing the keyboard and playing the oboe and singing. I’m writing music, and that hasn’t slowed down. They talk about [MS patients] being overwhelmed by fatigue, but I think my life is so filled with stimulating things to do that fatigue just doesn’t enter the equation.”
Most recently, Kamen directed the music for the 2002 Winter Olympics and scored Kevin Costner’s film “Open Range.” He was working on stage adaptations of “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “Don Juan DeMarco” at the time of his death.
Kamen is survived by his wife, Sandra Keenan-Kamen, daughters Sasha Kamen and Zoe Kamen, father Saul Kamen, and brothers Jon Kamen, Len Kamen and Paul Kamen.