US President Barack Obama presents the 2010 National Medal
of Arts to pianist Van Cliburn during a ceremony in the
White House in this March 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Jason
American pianist Van Cliburn, who awed Russian audiences
with his exquisite Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff concertos and
won fame and fortune back home, has died at the age of 78.
Cliburn passed away at his home in Fort Worth, Texas, after
suffering from bone cancer, his publicist Mary Lou Falcone
The lanky, blue-eyed Texan, who began taking piano lessons at
the age of 3 and later trained at New York's prestigious
Juilliard School, burst on to the world stage at the height
of the Cold War and was the surprise winner of the first
International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.
His performance at the finale led to an eight-minute standing
ovation and was so unexpected that the Russian judges
reportedly had to ask Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for
permission to give the top prize to the 23-year-old American.
Cliburn's triumph helped spur a brief thaw in US-Soviet
relations and made him an overnight sensation in the United
States, where his name was known even among those who did not
follow classical music.
"It was he that was the symbol of peace for the Cold War,"
Falcone said. "He was embraced by both Eisenhower and
Khrushchev in the 1950s and the only musician to have a
ticker-tape parade in Manhattan."