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Movie composer Raksin dies at 92

He was best known for the theme song to ‘Laura.’
/ Source: The Associated Press

David Raksin, an Oscar-nominated composer who arranged music for Charlie Chaplin’s silent classic “Modern Times” and wrote the memorable theme for 1944’s “Laura,” died Monday, his son said. He was 92.

Raksin, who had been ailing for several years and had early stage Alzheimer’s disease, died at his Van Nuys home, according to son Alex Raksin.

Although he wrote music for nearly 170 films and television shows, he is best known for the theme song to “Laura,” a murder mystery directed by Otto Preminger.

He wrote it after his first wife separated from him.

“She wrote him a ‘Dear John’ letter, and he only had two days to write the score or else they were going to use another. He turned to the letter for inspiration,” Alex Raksin said. “The studio saw a mystery...He saw a love story.”

After the film debuted, Johnny Mercer wrote lyrics for the song, which was later performed by Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Ella Fitzgerald among others.

Raksin received Academy Award music nominations for 1947’s “Forever Amber,” a drama set in the 1600s, and 1958’s “Separate Tables,” a romance.

Raksin was born Aug. 4, 1912, in Philadelphia and was educated at the University of Pennsylvania.

At 23, Raksin came to Hollywood to work with Chaplin, after toiling in dance bands and arranging for Broadway shows. He told the Los Angeles Times in 2002 that while working on “Modern Times,” he transcribed Chaplin’s hummed and whistled tunes and arranged them into a score.

His other credits include music for “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1947), “Force of Evil” (1948), “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), “Apache” (1954), and the TV shows “Wagon Train” (1957), “Ben Casey” (1961) and “Medical Center” (1969), as well as the 1983 nuclear-apocalypse TV movie “The Day After.”

He also worked as a music professor at the University of Southern California.