Van Cliburn died on early Wednesday, February 27 in Fort Worth at the age of 78. Mary Lou Falcone, his publicist and longtime friend, confirmed the death and said that Cliburn had been under treatment for bone cancer and he died at his house. "He died peacefully in his Fort Worth, Texas, home... surrounded by loved ones," she said.
Cliburn had been fighting bone cancer since last August. "Van Cliburn was an international legend for over five decades, a great humanitarian and a brilliant musician whose light will continue to shine through his extraordinary legacy," Falcone said in a statement. "He will be missed by all who knew and admired him, and by countless people he never met."
Cliburn was considered as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. He was born in Texas and in 1958, when he was 23, he won Tchaikovsky International Competition, a few months after Russia embarrassed the U.S. by launching the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1. Cliburn's victory was viewed as an American triumph over the Soviet Union at the height of the cold war. Even a Time magazine cover proclaimed him "The Texan Who Conquered Russia."
In the following years, his popularity soared. He performed for every U.S. president since Harry Truman. "Since we know that classical music is timeless and everlasting, it is precisely the eternal verities inherent in classical music that remain a spiritual beacon for people all over the world," Cliburn once said.
President George W. Bush presented Cliburn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the nation's highest civilian honor) in 2003. The following year, he received the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation from Russian President Vladimir Putin.