One of Hollywood’s most distinctive film composers, Danny Elfman is known for his dark, idiosyncratic scores, particularly those he has written for director Tim Burton’s films. He is also widely recognized for the music he has written for TV, particularly his theme song for The Simpsons.
Born in Amarillo, Texas, on May 29, 1953, Elfman was the son of a schoolteacher and the novelist Blossom Elfman. He spent his childhood in Los Angeles and moved with his brother, Richard, to France at the age of 18. There he became involved with a theatre group and received an introduction to musical orchestration. He and Richard started the musical troupe Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo, which would later become known as the cult group Oingo Boingo. After spending a few years in France, Elfman moved to Africa, where he stayed until a bout with malaria forced him to move back to the United States.
Elfman wrote his first score for his brother Richard’s film Forbidden Zone in 1980. A few years later, Elfman made the acquaintance of Tim Burton, who was a fan of Oingo Boingo. The fruits of their ensuing friendship were first made evident with Elfman’s score for Burton’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). The two would continue to work together on all of Burton’s subsequent films, and their artistic collaboration would become known as one of the industry’s most recognizable partnerships. It was for another of Burton’s films, the 1988 Beetlejuice, that Elfman first became known by soundtrack fans in general; his quirky, frenetic score, combined with a number of Harry Belafonte songs, proved to be an enormous cult success. Elfman earned additional acclaim and recognition for his scores for a number of other Burton films, particularly Edward Scissorhands (1990), the Batman series, and the animated The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). For the latter of these, Elfman also wrote the songs and provided the singing voice for the lead character, Jack Skellington.
In addition to his work with Burton, Elfman has supplied the scores for a number of films that encompass every imaginable genre. Some of the more memorable projects he has worked on include Dick Tracy (1990), Sommersby (1993), Mission: Impossible (1996), Men in Black (1997), A Simple Plan (1998), and Anywhere but Here (1999). He has also enjoyed a repeated collaboration with director Gus Van Sant on To Die For (1995) and Good Will Hunting (1997). Elfman received an Oscar nomination for his score for the latter film; that same year, he earned another nomination for his score for Men in Black.