NEW YORK — Billy Goldenberg, an Emmy-winning composer who worked with Barbra Streisand and Elvis Presley, scored Steven Spielberg’s early work, and wrote the theme music for more than a dozen television series, has died at his home in Manhattan. He was 84.
Gary Gerani, a friend who is making a documentary about Mr. Goldenberg, said the cause was most likely heart failure. He said fire department personnel found Mr. Goldenberg’s body on the morning of Aug. 4 after he had failed to answer his door for a delivery. He had died overnight.
Mr. Goldenberg’s TV career was blossoming in the late 1960s when he met Spielberg at Universal Studios and began composing the music for a number of the young director’s television efforts, including the horror anthology series “Night Gallery,” the whodunit drama “Columbo,” and the 1971 TV movie “Duel,” in which a motorist is terrorized by the driver of a big rig.
Spielberg then gave him the script for “The Sugarland Express,” the director’s first feature film. “I didn’t even look at the script because I was busy writing television,” Mr. Goldenberg said in the trailer to “Romantic Mysticism: The Music of Billy Goldenberg,” Gerani’s documentary. “How stupid can a person get?”
Mr. Goldenberg may have lost an opportunity, but he was on his way to becoming one of the busiest composers in Hollywood, writing theme music for popular series like “Rhoda,” the Valerie Harper spinoff of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and the detective drama “Kojak,” with Telly Savalas. In 1972, he wrote the scores for Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam” and “Up the Sandbox,” starring Streisand as a bored housewife with bizarre fantasies.
William Leon Goldenberg was born into music Feb. 10, 1936, in Brooklyn. His mother, Isabella, taught viola and violin and played in chamber and symphonic groups. His father, Morris, was a staff percussionist at WOR and the NBC Symphony Orchestra and taught at Juilliard.
Mr. Goldenberg, who left no relatives, remained immersed in composing for television through the 1990s and returned to Broadway in 2002 as the accompanist in “Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends.”