Born: June 2, 1944; Died: August 6, 2012.

Marvin Hamlisch, who has died aged 68 after a brief illness, was the award-winning composer and arranger of compulsively memorable tunes that the world was unable to stop humming – from the mournful The Way We Were to the jaunty reworking of Scott Joplin in The Sting.

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Prolific and seeming without boundaries, Hamlisch composed music for film heroes from James Bond to Woody Allen, for singers such as Liza Minnelli and Aretha Franklin, and high-kicking dancers of the Tony-winning A Chorus Line.

"He was a true musical genius, but above all that, he was a beautiful human being. I will truly miss him," said Barbra Streisand, who met the composer in 1963 and sang his The Way We Were to a Grammy win in 1974. His award-winning career included three Academy Awards, four Emmys, four Grammys, a Tony and three Golden Globes.

The one-time child prodigy's music coloured some of the most important works of Hollywood and Broadway. He composed more than 40 film scores, including Sophie's Choice, Ordinary People, The Way We Were and Take the Money and Run. He won his third Oscar for his adaptation of Joplin's music for The Sting.

On Broadway he received a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for A Chorus Line and wrote the music for The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success.

Hamlisch also reached into the pop world, writing Break It to Me Gently with Carole Bayer Sager for Franklin. He won Grammys in 1974 for best new artist and song of the year, The Way We Were, performed by Streisand. He also composed The Spy Who Loved Me and wrote the Carly Simon song, Nobody Does It Better, for the Bond film. The hit single was nominated for an Oscar in 1977.

Born and brought up in New York by Jewish parents, his interest in music started early. At seven he entered the Juilliard School of Music, stunning the admissions committee with his renditions of Goodnight Irene in any key it desired.

In his autobiography, The Way I Was, he admitted living in fear of not meeting his father's expectations. "By the time Gershwin was your age, he was dead," the Viennese-born musician would tell his son. "And he'd written a concerto. Where's your concerto, Marvin?"

In his teens, he switched from piano recitals to songwriting. Show music held a fascination for him. His first important job in the theatre was as rehearsal pianist for the Broadway production of Funny Girl with Streisand in 1964.

Although he was one of the youngest students ever at Juilliard, he never studied conducting. The Way We Were exemplified his old-fashioned appeal – a big, sentimental movie ballad that brought huge success in the rock era.

In a 2010 interview Hamlisch told Broadway World that in writing The Way We Were he was trying to match "a very yin-yang sort of movie".

He explained: "I wanted to write something that was uplifting and positive; on the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of bitter-sweetness to that film – and bittersweet romance – so it's a real duality. And that's why I think the song, though it's in the major mode, is quite sad."

Songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who wrote the lyrics for The Way We Were and worked with Hamlisch on many other projects, called him "our beloved friend. He was family. The world will miss his music, his humor, his genius. We will miss him every day for the rest of our lives".

But he was perhaps even better known for his work adapting Joplin for the Paul Newman, Robert Redford hit film The Sting – in particular, The Entertainer, the movie's theme song.

Hamlisch was a frequent entertainer at White House parties in the 1980s and wrote a 77th birthday song for Ronald Reagan.

A new Hamlisch work, The Nutty Professor, was in performances in Nashville at the time of his death, and he was working on another musical, Gotta Dance. He had written the score for a new HBO film on Liberace, Behind the Candelabra.

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Terre.