The beloved musician, who was hailed a hero at the age of 23 when he won the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow at the height of the cold war, died on Feb. 28 after battling bone cancer.
Van Cilburn, a beloved American pianist, died at the age of 78 after losing his battle with bone cancer. The musician gained worldwide recognition after winning first place in the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1958 when he was just 23 years old.
Van, who won the competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War, became a symbol of defeat over the Soviet Union during the war. His performance at the competition was received by an eight-minute standing ovation. At the event, the judges had to reportedly ask Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev if they could give the first place prize to an American.
“Is he the best?” Khrushchev reportedly said, according to the Washington Post. “Then give him the prize!”
Van Cilburn Propelled To Worldwide Fame
After his heroic win, Van became an international pop star and was beloved by fans worldwide. When he got back to New York from Moscow, he was received with a huge parade in Lower Manhattan attended by 100,000 people.
New York mayor Mayor Robert F. Wagner said during a ceremony at City Hall that “with his two hands, Van Cliburn struck a chord which has resounded around the world, raising our prestige with artists and music lovers everywhere,” according to the New York Times.
Watch Van Cilburn’s 1958 Tchaikovsky Performance Below:
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