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John Williams Is the Only Person to Be Nominated for an Oscar in Seven Different Decades

Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

Through hard work and dedication, John Williams has become the most accomplished film composer in cinematic history. Although you may not know his name, you most certainly know his music, as he composed the themes for Jaws and Star Wars. His name is credited on scores in many of the highest-grossing films in US box office history.

Williams was surrounded by music as a child

John Towner Williams was born in New York City on February 8, 1932. His father, Johnny Williams, was a jazz drummer and percussionist who most notably played with the Raymond Scott Quintette. The early influence of his father’s work in his life is likely what guided Williams to pursue a career in music.

John Williams posed for a photo at a piano.
John Williams, US composer, conductor and pianist, poses beside a grand piano at this home in Los Angeles, California, USA, 31 January 1980. (Photo Credit: David Strick / Pictorial Parade / Getty Images)

In 1948, the Williams family moved from New York to Los Angeles where he briefly attended the University of California. At the same time, he studied composition privately under Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Williams enlisted in the US Air Force in 1951, where he was assigned to conduct and arrange music for the US Air Force Band. He also played piano and brass. He served for four years until 1955, when he returned to NYC. While there, he attended The Julliard School to study piano, but eventually changed his focus to composition.

After he finished school, Williams moved back to LA and began his work as an orchestrator for film studios.

He began a lifelong friendship with Steven Spielberg

Williams was eventually sought out by director Steven Spielberg, who hoped to bring him on to compose for his directorial debut, The Sugarland Express. From that moment on, Williams and Spielberg shared a long-lasting and special professional relationship.

John Williams and Steven Spielberg posed for a photo together.
Honoree John Williams and director Steven Spielberg arrive at the American Film Institutes 44th Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute to John Williams at Dolby Theatre on June 9, 2016, in Hollywood, California. (Photo Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

Williams went on to compose all but five of the films directed by Spielberg. Spielberg said in 2012 that Williams is the “single most significant contributor to my success as a filmmaker.”

Williams has not solely worked with Spielberg, however. In fact, he has collaborated with several other notable directors. He worked with George Lucas on both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises and has also worked with the likes of Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Brian De Palma, and Robert Altman.

Williams has an impressive award history

Williams’ career has spanned over seven decades, and he has at least one Oscar nomination for each decade of work. With 53 Academy Award nominations over his career, he comes second only to Walt Disney for the most Oscar nominations in history.

An older John Williams accepting an award at a podium.
Honoree John Williams accepts the AFI Life Achievement Award onstage during the American Film Institutes 44th Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute show to John Williams at Dolby Theatre on June 9, 2016, in Hollywood, California. (Photo Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Turner)

There have been more than 10 instances where Williams was nominated at least twice at the same Oscar ceremony, and was even nominated three times in one night. It makes sense, as he has composed some of the most recognizable and critically acclaimed film scores in Hollywood film history.

Williams has taken home five Oscar wins over his career. His first was for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song in the 1972 film, Fiddler on the Roof. From there, he won the award for Best Music, Original Score for Jaws (1976), Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1978), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1983), and Schindler’s List (1994).

And the list goes on…

Williams’ awards list doesn’t stop there, either. Throughout his career, he has won 25 Grammy Awards, seven British Academy Films Awards, and four Golden Globes. In 2005, the American Film Institute declared Williams’ score to Star Wars the greatest score of all time.

Williams and George Lucas working together
Williams and George Lucas work together on the set of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox / Glowworm / MovieStillsDB)

Williams even won an American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award, given to only one individual annually, in 2016. This was the first time the award was ever presented to a person outside of the directorial and acting fields.

In 2023, Williams announced that he intended to retire following the release of the final Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. However, he seems to have changed his mind. At a special event with Spielberg, he said, “I’ll stick around for awhile. I can’t retire from music. A day without music is a mistake.”

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It seems Williams cannot get enough of composing breathtaking film scores for audiences everywhere, which is incredible, because we can’t get enough of his brilliance.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!