John Barry

John Barry was a British film composer best known for his memorable work on James Bond films.


John Barry was a film composer born on November 3, 1933 in York, England. He worked on the scores for 12 James Bond films from Dr. No in 1963 through The Living Daylights in 1987. Over his career he garnered five Academy Awards and two nominations for his work on films such as Born Free, The Lion in the Winter, Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves. He died on January 30, 2011 in New York.

Early Life

John Barry Prendergast was born on November 3, 1933, in York, England. By the age of 9, John Barry had developed an interest in playing the piano. By age 15, he had dropped out of school, working thereafter as a projector at one of his father's movie theaters. During this time, he composed music to the movies he watched.

In addition to piano, Barry played the trumpet in dance bands. He also perfromed with an army band until 1955, playing in Egypt and Cypress. In 1957, Barry formed the rock band The John Barry Seven. Three years later, he wrote music for the films Beat Girl (released as Wild for Kicks in America) and Never Let Go, the later of which was directed by Peter Sellers.

Creating Music for 'Dr. No'

By the early 1960s, Barry had become recognized in the industry for his unique musical style of jazz and pop. However, his big breakthrough came in 1962, after he was asked to arrange the title song for the first film of the popular James Bond franchise, Dr. No, based on Ian Fleming's novel. Of all music featured in Bond movies over the years (the series included 23 installments as of 2012), this tune has been the most famous.

Controversy ensued decades later, when Barry took credit for the Dr. No composition in a 1997 interview with The Sunday Times of London. The original composer selected for the film, Monty Norman, claimed that Barry had only created the orchestration for the song "Dr. No," and successfully sued the publication for libel.

Later 'James Bond' Compositions

Barry went on to work on 11 more Bond films, stamping each with his unforgettable and titillating jazz scores; he composed music for the soundtracks of From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), Moonraker (1979), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985) and The Living Daylights (1987).

Other Projects

Beyond the Bond films, Barry composed memorable tunes for Midnight Cowboy (1969), featuring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight; The Cotton Club (1984), showcasing Richard Gere and Gregory Hines; and many other films.

Over his decades-long career, Barry won five Academy Awards: Two for his work on Born Free (1966), and single Oscars for his work on The Lion in the Winter (1968), Out of Africa (1985) and Dances with Wolves (1990). He also received Academy Award nominations for Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) and Chaplin (1992).

Personal Life

Barry married four times, each time to wives who were in their teens. He married Barbara Pickard in 1958, and they had a daughter named Suzanne. After he and Pickard divorced in 1963, Barry began a relationship with Ulla Larson, which resulted in the birth of his second daughter, Sian.

In 1965, Barry wed actress Jane Birkin, who gave birth to his third daughter, Kate. The union lasted until 1969. That same year, he married Jane Sidey, and they moved to America in 1970. Their marriage dissolved in 1974.

Barry married for the final time in 1976, to fourth wife Laurie, and they had one son. The couple remained together until Barry's death from a heart attack on January 30, 2011, in Oyster Bay, New York.

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