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Van Cliburn, the famed concert pianist, has died at age 78 following a battle with bone cancer. He was best known for his role in the cold war, helping thaw tensions after he performed in Moscow in 1958.
His last public appearance came in September, when he told an audience in Fort Worth, “Never forget: I love you all from the bottom of my heart, forever.”
Cliburn’s winning performance at the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow propelled him to international stardom, notes The Dallas News. He was featured on the cover of Time and called “The Texan Who Conquered Russia.” When he came home, he was celebrated with a ticker tape parade on Wall Street. He went on to inspire generations of pianists.
After two decades of performing following his Moscow performance, he retired from playing publicly full-time. He got “tired of living out of a suitcase, flying nearly every day, never having a home,” he told Vogue once. “I could never go to the opera, which I adore, or a friend’s concert, or a movie. By 1978 I was ready to be bored for a while, to have a regular life. I wanted a house with all my things around me.”
In the late 1980s, he returned to the stage and won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. In 2003, he was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also performed for every president since Harry Truman.