Basil Poledouris, 61; film composer known for his bold sounds

Times Staff Writer

Basil Poledouris, a composer whose sweeping score for the 1989 miniseries “Lonesome Dove” won him an Emmy and who became known for the bold orchestral sounds he brought to such films as “Conan the Barbarian” and “The Hunt for Red October,” has died. He was 61.

Poledouris, who scored more than 80 films and television shows, died of cancer Wednesday at his Los Angeles home, a family spokeswoman said.

“When we were all beginners at USC, he was the most talented of any of us,” said director John Milius, speaking of a 1960s film school class that included future directors George Lucas and Randal Kleiser (“The Blue Lagoon”).

“He was one of the truly great movie composers. His music had tremendous emotion ... a certain kind of nobility,” Milius, who used Poledouris for the sword-and-sorcery epic “Conan” (1982), told The Times.


After scoring more than 100 education films with such titles as “A Day in the Life of a Dollar Bill,” Poledouris got his feature film break in “Big Wednesday,” a 1978 surfing movie by Milius, who was a surfing buddy.

Later, Milius hired the composer to score “Red Dawn” (1984), “Farewell to the King” (1989) and “Flight of the Intruder” (1991).

Last summer, Poledouris directed a concert version of his “Conan” score at a film music conference in Ubeda, Spain. He considered the experience a career highlight, said Doreen Ringer Ross, a vice president of the BMI performing rights agency who had worked with him more than 20 years.

“When we got to Ubeda, there were 700 or 800 fans screaming his name and wanting his autograph,” Ross told The Times.


“He was already sick, but he did such a brilliant job conducting. It was the most emotional musical moment,” Ross said.

For CBS’ “Lonesome Dove,” based on the Larry McMurtry novel about an arduous cattle drive, Poledouris wrote more than 4 1/2 hours of music. The mainly symphonic score was “Copelandesque,” The Times said in 1990.

The composer had long professional relationships with several directors, including Kleiser, for whom he scored “The Blue Lagoon” (1980), “It’s My Party” (1996) and other films. For Paul Verhoeven, the musician’s work included “Robocop” (1987) and “Starship Troopers” (1997).

A penchant for choral music could he heard in some of his scores, including that for “Red October” (1990), a Cold War thriller.

Basil Konstantine Poledouris was born Aug. 21, 1945, in Kansas City, Mo., and grew up in Garden Grove.

At 7, he started taking piano lessons. In high school, he performed with a folk music group called the Southlanders, according to a 1997 Copley News Service feature.

After studying music at Cal State Long Beach, Poledouris transferred to USC, where an interest in composing for movies took hold, nurtured by film-scoring classes taught by Miklos Rozsa. Poledouris graduated with a bachelor’s degree in film and music.

“I wandered into the cinema department ... and immediately thought that it looked to me like film was the music of my generation,” he said on his website, “It was an extraordinary time of social upheaval, and film just seemed to be a part of it.”


Poledouris, who was divorced, lived on Vashon Island in Washington’s Puget Sound for several years and had recently returned to Los Angeles.

He is survived by two daughters, Zoe of Los Angeles and Alexis of New York City; his mother, Helen; and a brother, John, both of Palm Desert.

No services will be held.

Instead of flowers, the family requests donations to the Catalina Island Conservancy, P.O. Box 2739, Avalon, CA 90704, or the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation,