FORT WORTH, Texas —
Time magazine's 1958 cover story quoted a friend as saying Cliburn could become "the first man in history to be a Horowitz, Liberace and Presley all rolled into one."
Cliburn performed for royalty, heads of state in Europe, Asia and South America, and for every U.S. president since Harry Truman.
"Since we know that classical music is timeless and everlasting, it is precisely the eternal verities inherent in classical music that remain a spiritual beacon for people all over the world," Cliburn once said.
But he also used his skill and fame to help other young musicians through the Van Cliburn International Music Competition.
Created by a group of Fort Worth teachers and citizens in 1962, the competition, held every four years, remains a pre-eminent showcase for the world's top pianists. An amateur contest was added in 1999.
"It is a forum for young artists to celebrate the great works of the piano literature and an opportunity to expose their talents to a wide-ranging international audience," Cliburn said during the 10th competition in 1997.
President George W. Bush presented Cliburn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation's highest civilian honor — in 2003. In 2004, he received the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I still have lots of friends in Russia," Cliburn said at the time. "It's always a great pleasure to talk to older people in Russia, to hear their anecdotes."
After the death of his father in 1974, Cliburn announced he would soon retire to spend more time with his ailing mother. He stopped touring in 1978.
He told The New York Times in 2008 that among other things, touring robbed him of the chance to enjoy opera and other musical performances. "I said to myself, 'Life is too short.' I was missing so much," he said. After winning the competition, he added, "it was thrilling to be wanted. But it was pressure too."