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Michel Colombier, 65; Composer Was Known for His Versatility

Times Staff Writer

Michel Colombier, the prolific French-born composer who scored more than 100 motion pictures and television productions including “White Nights,” “Against All Odds,” and “Purple Rain,” has died. He was 65.

Colombier, who also composed chamber music pieces and more than 20 ballets, died Sunday of cancer at his home in Santa Monica.

Often called the “godfather of French fusion” or, in Japan, “Fusion-sama,” Colombier was extremely versatile, whether a script called for classical music, jazz, rock, soul or his own innovative meshing of genres. He spun out the appropriate classical phrases for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s ballet steps in “White Nights” and collaborated with Prince on futuristic rock sounds for “Purple Rain” with equal aplomb.

He also worked quickly.

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Colombier demonstrated both his versatility and speed in 1991 when he was asked to score the raw urban film “New Jack City” after the original composer bowed out. Waiting for gritty, rhythmic music to perform were such artists as Ice-T, 2 Live Crew and Queen Latifah.

Colombier delivered an appropriate soul and rap-laced score in just three weeks.

A gifted pianist, Colombier was classically trained at the Paris Conservatory. He became a popular recording artist and performed on the soundtracks of some of the films he scored, including “The Golden Child,” starring Eddie Murphy, in 1986.

Other American films with Colombier’s music include “The Money Pit” with Tom Hanks, “Ruthless People” with Danny DeVito and Bette Midler, “Surrender” with Sally Field and Michael Caine, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” with Angela Bassett and “Swept Away” with Madonna.

He also composed for television films including “Double Switch” on ABC in 1987 and the “Desperado” series for NBC in the late 1980s. His eerie scores lent fear and mystery to HBO’s “Tales From the Crypt.”

Colombier worked initially in France, collaborating with such directors as Claude Lelouch and Vittorio De Sica and artists like Charles Aznavour and Catherine Deneuve. He came to the United States as musical director for Petula Clark, who introduced him to Herb Alpert. Their collaboration resulted in the Grammy-nominated album “Wings.” In addition to working with the Comedie Francaise and the Ballet de l’Opera National de Paris and American Ballet Theatre, Colombier composed frequently for the more modern Twyla Tharp Dance company.

As a conductor, he directed such top orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Paris Opera and the London Symphony.

Among his myriad awards were the Cesar, the Edison Prize and a Tokyo Music Award.

Colombier is survived by his wife, Dana; six children, Christian, Agathe, David, Emily, Siena and Arabella; and a sister, Marie-Francoise Hoessler.

A memorial observance is being planned.


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