Francis Lai, the French composer best known for his themes for the movies “Love Story” and “A Man and a Woman,” died on Wednesday. He was 86.
His death was announced by France’s Culture Ministry, which did not say where he died or specify the cause.
Born on April 6, 1932, in Nice, France, Mr. Lai was a self-taught musician who began his career playing piano and accordion. He worked as the singer Édith Piaf’s accompanist in Paris and later wrote songs for her, Yves Montand and others.
After meeting with the New Wave director Claude Lelouch in the 1960s, he began writing music for films. The first feature he scored was Mr. Lelouch’s “A Man and a Woman,” which won the 1967 Academy Award for best foreign-language film. Mr. Lai’s distinctive title song, featuring wordless vocals by a male-female duo, was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
Mr. Lai and Mr. Lelouch remained collaborators for more than 50 years, working together on movies including “Live for Life” (1967), “Happy New Year” (1973) and “A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later” (1986).
“He was the man of my life, an angel disguised as an accordionist,” Mr. Lelouch said in interview with RTL radio. “We made 35 films together, and we had a love story that lasted 50 years.”
Although most of the more than 100 films Mr. Lai scored were French, his biggest success was his music for Arthur Hiller’s “Love Story” (1970), starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw, one of the most successful romantic movies of all time.
His score won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and the movie’s soundtrack reached No. 2 on the Billboard album chart. Recordings of his theme song by Mr. Lai himself and Henry Mancini were Top 40 hits.
As “Where Do I Begin?,” with lyrics by Carl Sigman, the “Love Story” theme was a Top 10 hit for Andy Williams in 1971. It was also recorded by Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett and other singers.
Mr. Lai’s survivors include his wife and three children.