LOS ANGELES -- Marvin Hamlisch, the musical polymath who died suddenly Monday at age 68, was the musician the rest of us could only dream of becoming.
His legacy includes some of America's most beloved music: the score for the Broadway hit, A Chorus Line, his adapting works by Scott Joplin for the movie The Sting, and the theme song for the film The Way We Were. Once heard, they became part of our memories.
Mr. Hamlisch collapsed and died Monday in Los Angeles after a brief illness, his publicist Ken Sunshine said.
He was a composer, a conductor, an arranger, a pianist, and a presence. He swept the awards stratosphere, winning Emmys, Grammys, a Tony, Oscars, and a Pulitzer Prize for his compositions.
Yet Mr. Hamlisch remained humble and sincere and seemed to care more about the state of music and musical education than winning the next statuette.
One of his own songs best describes the Mr. Hamlisch approach to music: "What I Did For Love."
Not only was he a much-decorated composer, Mr. Hamlisch took seriously his responsibilities on the conductor's podium during stints with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the San Diego Symphony, and the National and Milwaukee orchestras.
Before his 2008 appearance in Toledo, for a KeyBank Pops Concert with the Toledo Symphony, he told The Blade how much he liked chatting with the audience during a show.
"One of the things that I do works well for pops concerts but also should be done in the classical world. It allows for more of a give-and-take. It gives each piece a certain context."
A musical populist, Mr. Hamlisch would take pains to correct what he perceived as the imbalance of a typical stage concert.
"Already, you have people looking up," he told The Blade. "I try to break down the wall. I tell stories about the music, anecdotes about the people. People love to be let into the music world. I do think talking to the audience is important."
Mr. Hamlisch was inspired by the quiet but influential musical revolution that happened at the New York Philharmonic in his native Manhattan about the same time he was born, 1944. "What was so great about Leonard Bernstein's Young People's concerts was the introductions he gave to the music," said Mr. Hamlisch, much later, of one of his greatest heroes.
After finishing training at the Juilliard School -- entering at age 7, Hamlisch was the youngest person ever accepted -- he emerged as a composer and launched a career that continued until his death.
Mr. Hamlisch had a long and lasting relationship with Toledo, making his first appearance with the Toledo Symphony in 1982. He returned for a gala at the Valentine Theatre in 2009, during which he also led a tutorial for high school music students.
High-flier though he was, he never forgot what mattered.
Greg Tucker, a Toledo native and the current senior vice president of communications at Aegon in The Netherlands, first met Mr. Hamlisch in 1997, when he joined the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as a spokesman.
At the time, Mr. Hamlisch was the symphony's principal pops conductor.
"As a kid I grew up watching Marvin -- I used to watch him on the Johnny Carson show," Mr. Tucker said. "We hit it off immediately … he was just one of the most easy-to-talk-to, down-to-earth, generous people, who just shared his gift of music."
In addition to interacting in a professional capacity, the two spent time together in Baltimore going to out for dinner and ice cream and attending Orioles games, even though Mr. Hamlisch was "a die-hard Yankees fan."
Less than a year ago, Mr. Hamlisch was in The Netherlands and while there attended the American School of The Hague, at the request of Mr. Tucker's daughters.
At the school, he performed for children in grades six through nine, composing music on the spot and playing some of his famed compositions.
"They were just enraptured -- they treated him like Adele or somebody," Mr. Tucker said.
"He made the point to the kids that every so often you get an opportunity and you may not see where it's going to go, but you have to follow your heart and instinct and take it. It was a simple and true message that resonated with kids here in The Netherlands who come from many walks of life."
Mr. Tucker emphasized that Mr. Hamlisch took great pride in his belief that music has the power to unite people, and that it can make a profound difference for both individuals and communities.
"He was just so considerate," Mr. Tucker said. "It was the simple gestures -- he was just a very real human being who was extraordinarily generous with his talent and his personality."
Sally Vallongo, special writer to The Blade, and staff writer Madeline Buxton compiled this report.