Pianist Van Cliburn reveals bone cancer diagnosis

The only classical pianist who has received a ticker-tape parade in New York City, Van Cliburn has announced through his publicist that he has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer.

Raised in Texas and educated at Juilliard, Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn earned global fame at age 23 when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, which occurred at the height of the Cold War.

Cliburn performed Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and his later recording of the latter was the first classical recording to sell 1 million copies and eventually went triple-platinum (Movement III of the song is shown above, taken from a performance when Cliburn returned to Russia in 1962).

Cliburn eventually gave his name to the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1962, and despite retiring in 1978 he has performed for every American president since Harry Truman. Cliburn received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2001 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.


The 78-year-old Cliburn reportedly is resting comfortably at home, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the pianist’s hometown newspaper since the 1980s. Cliburn told NPR in 2008 that he still practiced every day, often late at night.

“I was never really the type that needed the stage. I love music. I love listening to it,” he said. “But when you just listen, you can be 100%; when you have to serve music, you must be thinking of others, not yourself.”


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Twitter: @chrisbarton