Johann Johannsson's Death Leaves Friends Shocked, Questions Unanswered
As Berlin authorities attempt to determine a cause of death, colleagues mourn the passing of the 48-year-old composer, who was about to embark on his biggest film project yet — Disney's 'Christopher Robin.'
The film industry, both in Berlin and Hollywood, is still shocked by the sudden death last week of film composer Johann Johannsson. The Icelandic talent, who created the Oscar-nominated scores for Sicario and The Theory of Everything, was found dead on Feb. 9 in his apartment in Berlin. He was 48.
"We lost a great composer and a great artist over the weekend," said Iain Canning of See-Saw Films, who worked with Johannsson and collaborator Hildur Gudnadottir for the score to Garth Davis' Mary Magdalene, one of the last projects Johannsson completed. "Johann has left behind extraordinary music and film scores, but we have all lost the incredible work that was to come," Canning added.
That work was to include Johannsson's biggest film score to date: Shortly before his death, the composer had been hired by Disney to score Christopher Robin, an animation and live-action feature inspired by A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh books.
"He was mostly focused on that full time," Johannsson's manager, Tim Husom at Redbird Music, told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was a kind of uncharted territory for him, that kind of movie, and it was really going well."
"Now he's gone in his physical form," said Gudnadottir. "And a part of my soul has gone. I have yet to come to terms with the fact that I will have to go on without him sitting at the other side of my studio wall. I have not yet gathered the courage to go back to our studio."
Husom said his last conversation with Johannsson, on Wednesday, Feb.7, was "business as usual." They discussed the Christopher Robin soundtrack and planned live performances in Sydney and London for Last and First Men, a documentary that Johannsson directed and scored, for which Tilda Swinton provided the voiceover commentary.
There was no sign, Husom said, that anything was amiss. But when Johannsson didn't call on Thursday — the two speak daily — Husom called an associate in Berlin. When there was no answer at his Berlin apartment, the associate contacted the police.
A police spokesman told THR they broke into Johannsson's apartment, in Berlin's trendy Mitte neighborhood, midafternoon on Friday and found him dead. "There were no signs of violence or foul play of any kind," the spokesman said. Authorities ordered a toxicology test of Johannsson's blood, as a matter of course, but do not expect results before next week at the earliest. Currently there is no active investigation into the cause of his death.
By all accounts, Johannsson was a workaholic. In addition to his film scores — recent work included the soundtracks to James Marsh's The Mercy, starring Colin Firth, and the Nicolas Cage action thriller Mandy — Johannsson composed for dance and live theater productions and released his own studio albums of original music. But despite his increasingly high profile, Husom said he was, at heart, a very private man who "absolutely did not seek out the limelight. He created music for the sake of creating music."
Added Gudnadottir: "He lived for music. It was his everything. And as I sit here swimming in tears, I take comfort in feeling how much he touched people with his music. That meant the world to him."
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 15 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.