hide captionEugene Fodor was the first American to take home top honors at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
In the 1970s, violinist Eugene Fodor was a sensation. He was called the "Mick Jagger of classical music" and a "cowboy fiddler." Young, handsome and extremely talented, Fodor became the first American to win the top prize in the Soviet Union's prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition. Eugene Fodor died last week at his home in Arlington, Va. He was 60 years old.
Fodor grew up on a ranch near Denver. His widow, Susan Davis, says he had a special connection with horses.
"He could stand on a horse," Davis says. "He could play violin on a horse. He would just ride like he lived on a horse."
Davis says Fodor was also born to play the violin. It started with his parents, both serious music lovers. Fodor began playing violin when he was a little boy, and his father was very strict about practicing. Fodor once complained he was never allowed to date in high school.
Fodor ended up going to Juilliard, and he won all kinds of awards, including the international Paganini Competition in Italy. But then he did something no Westerner had ever done before: He shared second place with two Soviets at the Tchaikovsky Violin Competition in Moscow in 1974. There was no first place prize that year. Still, at the time, during the Cold War, it made him a star.
"He came home to a ticker tape parade," Davis remembers. "He was on Johnny Carson 15 times, and you had people attending classical music concerts who'd never been before."
Eugene Fodor performs Antonio Bazzini's La Ronde des Lutins
But Fodor had his critics. He was a flashy player, and some thought he was more style than substance. By his own admission, he could be cocky and rebellious. And he struggled with addiction to opiates and alcohol. His career and his family disintegrated.
Fodor and Davis divorced in 1985. But just last fall, they remarried. Fodor had recently been released from the hospital where he was treated for liver failure. Davis says he had stopped playing violin.
"He had great pain around his music," she says. "I couldn't play violin music around him without him crying. He felt his life had no value without music and without the great venues he'd performed in. He felt it had been ripped away from him ... it was extremely painful."
Fodor died of cirrhosis last week. Today would have been his 61st birthday.