Piano legend Van Cliburn has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer, a spokeswoman for the artist said Monday.
"He is under excellent care and resting comfortably at home," said Mary Lou Falcone, Cliburn's longtime friend and publicist. "His spirits are high. We ask that his privacy be respected."
Alann Sampson, interim president and CEO of the Van Cliburn Foundation and and another of the Fort Worth pianist's close friends, confirmed that he is gravely ill, but declined to comment further.
Cliburn, who turned 78 in July, has been an international celebrity since he stunned the world in 1958 by winning the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. The unlikely triumph at the height of the Cold War vaulted the lanky Texan to a level of stardom rarely achieved by classical musicians, including a ticker tape parade in New York City.
Cliburn went on to one of the most prominent performing and recording careers of the 20th century. His life also intersected with major figures of his era, including several American presidents and Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union at the time of Cliburn's triumph.
"Did I really live through all that?" Cliburn said in an interview with the Star-Telegram this spring. "I'm grateful for all the many things that have come my way."
In 1962, Cliburn also lent his name to the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, widely considered to be one of the world's finest. He has greeted each of the young performers at the competitions, befriended many, and presented awards to the winners.
The next competition is scheduled to begin next May in Fort Worth.
Cliburn has lived in Westover Hills, on Fort Worth's west side, since the 1980s, and has been a fixture in local cultural life. Cliburn has performed for every American president since Harry Truman. In 2003, President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has also received a Grammy lifetime achievement award.