A second-generation member of Hollywood's preeminent musical dynasty, composer Thomas Newman carried on his family's legacy through a series of Academy Award-nominated film scores.
He was born in Los Angeles on October 20, 1955, the son of Alfred Newman and the nephew of Lionel and Emil Newman, all three renowned composers and conductors from Hollywood's golden age. (Thomas' brother David also followed in the family business, as did their cousin, the sardonic singer/songwriter Randy Newman.) Thomas studied piano and violin as a child, following a two-year stay at the University of Southern California by earning a master's degree in music from Yale. Although his early musical theater project Three Mean Fairy Tales was championed by Stephen Sondheim, Newman spent the better part of the part of the late '70s playing keyboards in the rock band the Innocents and the improvisational combo Tokyo 77. In 1983, he broke into the film industry by orchestrating a John Williams cue from Return of the Jedi, composing his first full score, Reckless, the following year. Newman's ethnic-inspired score to the 1985 Madonna vehicle Desperately Seeking Susan proved his breakthrough, and he further honed his distinctive electro-orchestral approach on subsequent projects including 1987's The Lost Boys and Less Than Zero. Films including Fried Green Tomatoes, The Rapture, and Scent of a Woman followed before Newman earned a pair of Oscar nominations in 1994 for his work on The Shawshank Redemption and Little Women; a year later, he received another Academy Award nomination for Unstrung Heroes. 1999's American Beauty was his fourth Oscar bid.