UPDATE: AUSTIN (KYTX) - Gov. Rick Perry released the following statement regarding the death of the world renowned American pianist, Van Cliburn:
"Van Cliburn lived an extraordinary life and was a true man of his times. His prodigious gifts at the piano are legendary, and his storied accomplishment at the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition helped bring the world closer together. His larger-than-life talent helped transcend discourse and reminded us that we are, at the core of our being, all human beings who love works of beauty. On a personal note, Anita and I will miss him tremendously. We were blessed to call Van Cliburn a close friend. He was an incredibly thoughtful person and his love of life was contagious to anyone in his company. Anita and I send our deepest condolences to his family, friends and fans during this difficult time."
FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - Famed pianist Van Cliburn passed away Wednesday at the age of 78. The musician had been suffering from bone cancer since August, and was being cared for at his home in Fort Worth.
According to his publicist, Mary Lou Falcone, the musician died peacefully in his home, surrounded by loved ones. "It always comes as a shock," she told KRLD. "He's been ill, diagnosed with bone cancer at the end of August, and valiantly fought and lost the battle."
Cliburn rose to world fame when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. The year was 1958. It was the height of the Cold War. And Cliburn, from the Texas town of Kilgore, was instrumental in taking the chill off of the tense global setting. "As a matter of fact, I couldn't refrain from telling them they're very much like Texans," he had said.
The musician became an American hero at age 23, returning from Moscow to a ticker tape parade. Time Magazine proclaimed him "The Texan Who Conquered Russia."
Cliburn's career rose to a steady crescendo afterwards. He performed for every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. And though Cliburn was honored by world leaders, he never forgot about the future generations of classical musicians who would follow in his footsteps. Falcone said, "He's the champion of young talent forever."
The pianist called Fort Worth his home, and a street in the city bears his name. "Well, I'm just overwhelmed," he said of the honor.
When asked about Cliburn's lasting memory, Falcone said, "His great humanitarianism, his brilliant musicianship, and his extraordinary legacy that he leaves behind."
Cliburn played on many stages around the globe, from Russia to Cowboys Stadium. He was extraordinarily talented, and he shared that gift with the world. "Texas, America and the world lost a treasure," tweeted former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. "Van Cliburn was the best, in music and heart."