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Van Cliburn
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    (July 12, 1934-February 27, 2013)
    Born in Shreveport, Louisiana
    Birth name was Harvey Lavan Cliburn
    Classical pianist
    Won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition, held in Moscow (1958)
    Recorded a best-selling version of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 (1958)
    Established the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (1962)
    Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2003)
    He was a child prodigy.
    His fame after winning the Tchaikovsky Competition was due to Cold War politics more than Americans' interest in classical music.
    He lived with his mother until her death at age 97.
    He was considered a notoriously difficult interview subject.
    His former partner, mortician Thomas Zaremba, sued him for palimony and alleged that Cliburn may have exposed him to AIDS during their 16-year relationship.
    The judges at the Tchaikovsky Competition felt obligated to ask Premier Nikita Khruschev permission to award first place to an American.
    Khruschev asked, 'Is he the best?' Told he was, the Soviet leader replied, 'Then give him the prize.'
    He was the first (and as of 2009 only) classical musician given a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
    Russian composer Aram Khachaturian said that he played Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto better than Rachmaninoff.
    He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of Friendship, the highest civilian awards of the US and Russia.
    Condoleeza Rice praised 'the power of his music to build bridges across the cultural and political divide.'

Credit: C. Fishel

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