Monty Norman, a British composer who wrote the theme tune for the James Bond films, has died at age 94. A statement posted Monday on Norman’s official website said: "It is with sadness we share the news that Monty Norman died on 11th July 2022 after a short illness." Born Monty Noserovitch to Jewish parents in the East End of London in 1928, Norman got his first guitar when he was 16, the AP reports. He performed with big bands and in a variety double act with comedian Benny Hill before writing songs for early British rockers Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele and composing for stage musicals including Make Me an Offer, Expresso Bongo, Songbook, and Poppy.
Norman was hired by producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli to compose a theme for the first James Bond film, Dr. No, released in 1962. He drew on a piece he had written for a proposed musical adaptation of VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, shifting the key riff from sitar to electric guitar. The result—twangy, propulsive, menacing—has been used in all 25 Bond thrillers. Producers hired composer John Barry to rearrange the theme, and Barry was widely assumed to have written it—to Norman's chagrin. Barry, who died in 2011, went on to compose scores for almost a dozen Bond films, including Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice.
Norman went to court to assert his authorship, suing the Sunday Times newspaper for libel over a 1997 article asserting the theme was composed by Barry. He won in 2001 and was awarded $35,000 in damages. When Broccoli asked Norman to compose the Bond theme, Norman was busy with two stage projects and said no until producers offered to fly him and his wife to Jamaica while filming was underway, the BBC reports. "That was the clincher for me," he joked years later. "I thought, even if Dr. No turns out to be a stinker at least we'd have sun, sea, and sand to show for it!" (Read more obituary stories.)