Basil Poledouris, the Emmy-winning composer of “Lonesome Dove” and composer for such films as “Conan the Barbarian,” “Free Willy” and “The Blue Lagoon,” died of cancer Nov. 8 2006, in Los Angeles. He was 61 and was survived by his mother Helen Poledouris; former wife Bobbie Poledouris of Santa Monica; two daughters, Zoë and Alexis; his brother John Poledouris; and dear friend Suni Kim of Vashon Island, WA. I am proud to say that I got to spend some time with Basil in Spain before his death.
Poledouris was born in Kansas City, Mo., Aug. 21, 1945. He began studying piano at the age of 9, became part of a folk group in high school and studied both film and music at USC. He scored a handful of television projects in the early 1970s, but his feature scores for “Big Wednesday” and “The Blue Lagoon” – both for former USC colleagues – catapulted him into larger-scale features.
Best-known for his powerful music for action-adventure films of the 1980s and ’90s, Poledouris scored both of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appearances as the sword-and-sorcery hero in “Conan the Barbarian” (1982) and “Conan the Destroyer” (1984). His orchestral-and-choral scores are today considered high points in the genre of music for fantasy films. Poledouris conducted a substantial portion of the reconstructed “Conan” score at a concert in Ubeda, Spain, in July 2006.
The first Conan movie was one of several films the composer scored for director John Milius. Others included “Big Wednesday” (1978), “Red Dawn” (1984), “Farewell to the King” (1989) and “Flight of the Intruder” (1991). He also enjoyed long professional relationships with directors Randal Kleiser (“The Blue Lagoon,” 1980; “Summer Lovers,” 1982; “White Fang,” 1991; “It’s My Party,” 1996), Paul Verhoeven (“Flesh and Blood,” 1985; “Robocop,” 1987; “Starship Troopers,” 1997); Simon Wincer (“Quigley Down Under,” 1990; “Free Willy,” 1993); and John Waters (“Serial Mom,” 1994; “Cecil B. DeMented,” 2000).
Among Poledouris’ other popular scores were “The Hunt for Red October” (1990), “Wind” (1992), and “Les Miserables” (1998). In stark contrast to his music for testosterone-driven big-screen thrillers was his music for two television miniseries: the gentle Americana of the controversial 14-hour “Amerika” (1987) and the folk-based Western score for the eight-hour “Lonesome Dove” (1989), which won the composer an Emmy.
In 1996, Poledouris was commissioned to write music for the opening of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. His six-minute piece, “The Tradition of the Games,” drew on his study of ancient mythology and Greek philosophy and was performed by the Atlanta Symphony and a 300-voice choir. Before his death Poledouris – an avid surfer and sailor – moved to Vashon Island, Wash.