Van Cliburn, the pianist who helped unite and inspire people during the Cold War, has died, the Associated Press reports. He was 78.
Cliburn died in his Fort Worth, Texas, home after succumbing to his battle with bone cancer.
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Born in Louisiana, Cliburn began taking piano lessons at the age of three. After growing up in Texas, Cliburn moved to New York to study at the Julliard School and trained in Russian Romantic-style music. It was in 1958, at the age of 23, when Cliburn rose to fame after winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. That year he was on the cover of Time Magazine with the headline, "The Texan Who Conquered Russia." Although Russia and the United States were battling at the time, Cilburn became a hero to Soviets.
"In 1958, he proved to the world that music is a transcendental force that goes beyond political boundaries and cultural boundaries and unifies mankind," Veda Kaplinsky, head of the piano department at the Juilliard School, said according to The Star-Telegram. "Beyond that, his legacy is that of a person who personified grace, humility, talent, kindness and sincerity. He was a human being first and foremost. He never lost that."
Soon Cliburn began to perform for royalty and every U.S. president since Harry Truman. In 2003, Cliburn was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush and in 2004 Russian President Vladimir Putin presented him with the Order of Friendship. He was also given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 and in 2011 President Barack Obama presented him with the National Medal of the Arts.