Composer James Horner, pictured in Beverly Hills, California, in 2010
Los Angeles (AFP) - Shell-shocked Hollywood mourned Tuesday James Horner, the Oscar-winning composer of musical scores for a string of smash-hit movies including "Titanic" and "Avatar," who died in a plane crash aged 61.
Trade magazine Variety reported the highly talented composer died Monday when his private aircraft went down in Santa Barbara, California.
"We have lost an amazing person with a huge heart and unbelievable talent. He died doing what he loved," Horner's personal assistant, Sylvia Wells, said on her Facebook page.
The agency that represented him, The Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency, said it had not yet received official confirmation of his death, but said it was "shocked and deeply saddened."
"Brilliant composer James Horner, friend & collaborator on 7 movies has tragically died in a plane crash. My heart aches for his loved ones," wrote director and colleague Ron Howard on Twitter.
Horner won two Oscars for "Titanic" -- one for its theme song "My Heart Will Go On," performed by Celine Dion, and another for the film's score.
Dion said she "will always remember his kindness and great talent that changed my career."
The Federal Aviation Administration said a single engine Tucano MK1 crashed Monday morning near Cuyama, killing the pilot, the only person on board.
The plane was registered to Tucano Flyer, LLC, which lists Horner as a managing member. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.
- Expansive and emotive soundscapes -
Horner also won Oscar nominations for the musical scores of several other box-office hits, including "Apollo 13," "Braveheart" and "Field of Dreams." His first nomination came in 1986, for the sci-fi horror film "Aliens."
His most recent Oscar nomination was for another sci-fi epic, James Cameron's 2009 blockbuster "Avatar."
With expansive and emotive soundscapes, Horner's scores carried films to their climax and accompanied top actors as they delivered some of their most moving performances.
Tender kisses in "The Amazing Spider-Man," grand battles in "Troy" and moments of stirring drama in "A Beautiful Mind" were all set up by Horner's hand.
"When we lose a character, when somebody wins, when somebody loses, when someone disappears -- at all times I'm keeping track, constantly, of what the heart is supposed to be feeling," Horner said in a 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Times.
"That is my primary role."
American film touchstones of the 1990s such as "Patriot Games," "Searching for Bobby Fischer" and "Jumanji" were also composed by Horner.
Top actors and directors in the film and television world paid tribute to Horner online.
"Incredibly saddened to hear about the loss of James Horner. I grew up loving his work. He leaves behind a spectacular musical legacy," television series creator Seth MacFarlane tweeted.
"There is nothing that shaped my movie-going experience more than the musical genius of James Horner. He will live on through the ages," tweeted actor Rob Lowe.
Actor Ron Perlman, who starred in "Enemy at the Gates," said he was "lucky to be able to say I was in a movie that was scored by James Horner."
"Flights of angels dear sweet beautiful mind," he wrote on Twitter.
Other composers also spoke of Horner's lasting influence on their careers.
"James Horner, thank you for inspiring a young me to pursue a career in film music. Thank you for your music. Rest in peace," wrote Steve Jablonsky, who composed music for the "Transformers" film series.
Horner also scored popular animated films "The Land Before Time" (1988) and "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" (1991).
He was nominated for an Oscar for the song "Somewhere Out There" in "An American Tail."