Billy Goldenberg, Composer on 'Duel' and 'Queen of the Stardust Ballroom,' Dies at 84

Billy Goldenberg- Getty - H 2020
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The Emmy winner and Broadway veteran worked with Elvis, Streisand and Diana Ross and penned the theme songs for 'Kojak' and 'Rhoda.'

Billy Goldenberg, the Emmy-winning composer who collaborated with Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross, wrote the theme songs for Kojak and Rhoda and provided music for Queen of the Stardust BallroomHelter Skelter and Steven Spielberg's Duel, has died. He was 84.

Goldenberg died Monday in his Manhattan apartment, friend and screenwriter Gary Gerani, who is doing a documentary about the composer, told The Hollywood Reporter.

For the big screen, Goldenberg worked on films including Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam (1972), Streisand's Up the Sandbox (1972), The Last of Sheila (1973), Busting (1974), Reuben, Reuben (1983) and 18 Again! (1988).

The Brooklyn native served as the musical director on NBC's audience-grabbing Elvis: The Comeback Special in 1968 and wrote the score for Change of Habit (1969), starring Presley and Mary Tyler Moore.

Goldenberg also arranged music for Streisand's landmark 1965 CBS special My Name Is Barbra; was Ross' musical director for her 1976 Broadway showcase and for her 1977 NBC special; and assisted Ann-Margret, Petula Clark and others with their own TV shows.

Goldenberg composed songs for the acclaimed 1975 CBS telefilm Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975), starring Maureen Stapleton and Charles Durning. He then teamed with lyricists Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman for the 1978-79 Michael Bennett-directed Broadway adaptation Ballroom, starring Dorothy Loudon and Vincent Gardenia.

He worked with Spielberg on the 1969 pilot for the NBC anthology series Night Gallery, the 1971 ABC telefilm Duel and on "Murder by the Book," a 1971 episode of NBC's Columbo. Goldenberg, in fact, scored several installments of the fabled Peter Falk crime series. 

A pianist who wrote a number of classical pieces, Goldenberg collected 23 Emmy nominations during his career, winning for his miniseries work in 1975 for CBS' The Lives of Benjamin Franklin and in 1978 for NBC's King

Born in Brooklyn on Feb. 10, 1936, William Leon Goldenberg was the son of famed percussionist, Juilliard teacher and author Morris Goldenberg. After graduating from Columbia College in 1957, he penned songs for The Kukla, Fran and Ollie Show.

He began his Broadway career in 1960 writing incidental music for An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May and worked on the original musicals Let It Ride110 in the ShadeHigh Spirits and Henry, Sweet Henry through 1967.

"Theater is what I always wanted to do, but everything changed in the '60s when new musicals came in like Hair," he said in a 1999 interview. "A lot of us who were writing for the Broadway theater, at that time, really felt alienated from it. We came to California and became film composers — Marvin Hamlisch, myself, David Shire."

His movie debut came on The Grasshopper (1970), starring Jacqueline Bisset.

Goldenberg also composed the theme songs for such shows as DelvecchioAlias Smith and JonesBanacekOur House and Love, Sidney and did music for dozens of miniseries and specials like Fear No EvilDon't Be Afraid of the DarkThe Legend of Lizzie Borden and Helter Skelter.

He was close friends with Bea Arthur for years and accompanied her on her 2002 one-woman Broadway show.