by Hans ten Cate
Thursday, 20 November 2003

Michael Kamen (1948 - 2003)

Read Eric's tribute to his friend Michael Kamen in Eric's Greedy Bastard Show journal (Day 52)

Michael Kamen, the Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated composer who collaborated with Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle on a number of films, has died at age 55.

Kamen scored countless Hollywood films but is perhaps best known for his ability to mix symphonic and rock sensibilities. Perhaps his most famous collaboration was with Pink Floyd in 1979, providing the orchestral arrangements in their album The Wall. Kamen also scored the orchestral part of Queen's 1986 song Who Wants to Live Forever. His most recent Grammy win, in 2001, was one he shared with the metal-rock band Metallica for conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra as part of the band's celebrated album S&M.

But Python fans will note that Kamen worked on a number of key Gilliam films and worked closely with Eric Idle to create some of the music for Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Notable Python-related collaborations include:

  • Brazil (1985)
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
  • Splitting Heirs (1993)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

It was Brazil that allegedly started Michael Kamen's rise in the film industry. British musician Ray Cooper recalls: "One of the jobs I always had was to help Terry Gilliam through the music side of post-production. So I heard [Kamen's] Venom soundtrack which was interesting and realised this was a man who had a sense of space... I said to Terry, 'I think I've found a composer for you...' I brought him along to see a rough cut of Brazil and Michael's mouth dropped open, and we sat with Michael week after week pulling out of Michael what he didn't know he had in him. And that launched his career because when Steven Spielberg saw Brazil, he wanted the composer and Michael's career never looked back." [1]

Interestingly, Kamen initially did not want to use the song "Brazil" in the film because it sounded too dainty. Terry helped change his mind after playing a very old version of the song, sung by Ary Barroso, the song's original author. The song so seduced Kamen, that he desseminated the Brazilian theme throughout the movie. [2]

Several years later Kamen and Gilliam collaborated again on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Eric Idle and Michael Kamen worked together at Gilliam's request to create a few musical pieces, including a faux opera called "The Torturer's Apprentice," to be inserted into the film. “I found myself in a small room at the Hotel De Ville with Michael Kamen and large amounts of rented electronic musical equipment,” Eric recalls. “Michael and I spent the rest of the weekend mapping out the various beats and writing this cod opera...” [3]

Kamen spent the next 15 years composing film music and was nominated twice for an Academy Award (both times for collaborations with rocker Bryan Adams).

In 2002, Michael Kamen helped organize a gala concert at the Royal Opera House in London to mark the 100th anniversary of the mountain gorillas. The evening consisted of Michael Palin and an array of stars reading Dian Fossey's letters with musical interludes conducted by Kamen. Later that year, Kamen was also musical director of the George Harrison Tribute Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The show featured several musical performances by the Pythons, sans John Cleese but including Carol Cleveland.

Kamen was recently working on a stage musical based on the film Mr. Holland's Opus as well as an orchestral concert with Bob Dylan. Kamen died of a heart attack on Tuesday, November 18, and is survived by his wife, two daughters, three brothers and his father.


  • [1] Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: The Inside Story of HandMade Films, by Robert Sellers, Metro Publishing, Ltd., 2003
  • [2] Terry Gilliam: El Soñador Rebelde, by Jordi Costa and Sergi Sánchez, Euskadiko Filmategia Filmoteca Vasca, 1998
  • [3] Losing the Light: Terry Gilliam and the Munchausen Saga, by Andrew Yule, Applause Books, 1991