Oscar-winning film composer who scored ‘Love Story’
Francis Lai, who won an Academy Award for his heart-tugging musical score of the blockbuster 1970 movie “Love Story” and composed the music for more than 100 films — including the 1966 French hit “A Man and a Woman” — died Wednesday in Nice, France. He was 86.
His death was announced by the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi.
Lai began his musical career as an accordionist and accompanist to renowned French chanteuse Edith Piaf. He was primarily a songwriter before he was introduced to filmmaker Claude Lelouch, who invited Lai to compose a score for “A Man and a Woman” — and then for 35 more films on which they worked together.
“His music was not just beguiling, but it conveyed a charming seductiveness,” film historian Jon Burlingame said. “There was something sexy about it.”
The slender plot of “A Man and a Woman” revolved around two widowed parents — a film assistant played by Anouk Aimee and a racecar driver played by Jean-Louis Trintignant — who fall in love after being brought together by their children, who attend the same school. The film, shot in black and white, includes walks on the beach, all-night drives in the rain and breathless reunions of the two central characters.
“A Man and a Woman” received decidedly mixed reviews, but audiences couldn’t get enough of the film’s romantic yearning. It shared the grand prize at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival.
Because he did not speak English and seldom left France, Lai had limited exposure in Hollywood before “Love Story,” a 1970 film directed by Arthur Hiller and based on a blockbuster novel by Erich Segal.
Lai twice turned down offers to work on “Love Story.” He was finally persuaded by French actor Alain Delon, who f lew to Paris with Paramount studio head Robert Evans to show Lai a rough cut of the movie.
“I came out of the screening incredibly moved,” Lai told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. “I went straight home, sat at my keyboard and wrote that theme that very night.”
Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Dagmar Puetz; and three children.