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John Williams on the tragedy that influenced his career’s work

The beloved film composer lived a quiet life, and his little-known story is explored in the immersive-audio series BLOCKBUSTER.

Before JAWS and STAR WARS made him the most successful composer of all time, John Williams was a jazz pianist who played on several iconic film scores, including West Side Story and The Apartment.

The scores for JAWS and STAR WARS are still considered by many the magnum opus of film composer John Williams.

Since, he's scored films including SUPERMAN, E.T. - THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, the INDIANA JONES series, SCHINDLER'S LIST, JURASSIC PARK, the first three HARRY POTTER films, and many more.

In fact, it was an intense and personal tragedy that preceded Williams' first major successes with 1975's JAWS. Williams' path and musical genius is profiled in BLOCKBUSTER, an original scripted podcast series available now on Apple Podcasts, as well as Spotify and all other podcast platforms.

In 1956, a then 24-year-old "Johnny" Williams married actress Barbara Ruick. Over the next 12 years, they would have three children, while John worked as a pianist for the Fox studio orchestra, and made his way into composing on smaller projects.

Barbara would go back into acting, and in 1973 flew to Reno, Nevada, to appear in a film called "California Split," directed by Robert Altman.

On March 3, 1974, Barbara collapsed in her hotel room from an apparent cerebral hemorrhage. She was pronounced dead at the age of 43.

Williams has rarely commented about losing Barbara, but reservedly told attendees of a 2014 speaking event it not only changed his personal life, but it impacted his musical approach as well.

"Before that point in my life, I didn’t know what I was doing," Williams said at the event, coordinated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "But after that — in my writing and in what I was doing — it was clear what I was trying to do, and how I could do it with whatever small gift I may have been given."

Williams had reportedly planned to score "California Split," but those duties were taken over by composer Phyllis Shotwell instead.

Williams turned to music to cope with the loss.

"It was a huge emotional turning point in my life," he said, "but one that resonates with me still. And it taught me about who I was and what I was doing, and what it meant."

Williams won his first Academy Award for Original Score for 1975's JAWS, and his second for STAR WARS. He has tallied more Oscar nominations than anyone in modern film history with 51, second only to Walt Disney.

"This is a deeply emotional thing. And, in a way, that the was the greatest gift ever given to me — if I can put it that way — by anyone, he said. "I immediately knew where to go with this emotionally."

Williams' path and musical genius is profiled in BLOCKBUSTER, an original scripted podcast series available now on Apple Podcasts, as well as Spotify and all other podcast platforms.

BLOCKBUSTER has been painstakingly researched, compiled and referenced from thousands of sources, and details many of the events that led to the creation of JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, and STAR WARS — and the very idea of "the blockbuster" film.

It's a story too incredible not to be told, with the richest, most immersive sound design ever created.

Put on your headphones, close your eyes, and enjoy.

This is a sonic experience that invites you into the offices, film sets and homes of the most influential dreamers, rebels and world builders in Hollywood film history. You won't just be listening; you'll feel like you're there.


It's free to listen. But please consider a donation!

We've made the decision to release Blockbuster for free and without ads interrupting the story. But this production did take about $80,000 to produce from start to finish, so if you enjoy the experience, please consider giving $10, and you'll earn some cool bonus perks in the process!

You can subscribe now at Apple Podcasts for weekly episodes, as well as Spotify and all other podcast platforms.


Follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@Blockbuster_Pod), and Instagram @BlockbusterPod, and the show's creator Matt Schrader on Twitter (@mattschrader).



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