'Consummate Artist' Van Cliburn Closed His Keyboard Wednesday At His Fort Worth Home

Music lovers played obbligato on their instruments when internationally-famous Van Cliburn died at age 78 of complications from bone cancer.

Like astronaut Neil Armstrong, the tall Texan's talent and successes were out of this world. He was all of 23 when he tickled the ivories in Moscow for the Tschaikovsky Competition and won first prize. Unerring precision and sublime emotion were two stand-out visuals.

So startled and proud was the nation's reaction so they gave him a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan, the first and last time a pianist won such an honor. His recording of his prize-winning pieces -- like Tschaikovsky No. 1 was the first classical record to sell more than a million copies and became required concert staples. Playing on that professional treadmill for the next 20 years led to his burn-out and by 1978 he looked "terrible."

He played for President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev at the White House nine years later and made occasional performances thereafter. He keyed up a world of fans.