Three years after winning the prestigious gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, pianist Vadym Kholodenko suffered the deaths of his two young children, for which his estranged wife has been charged with capital murder. It's just the latest tragedy to befall a Cliburn winner, Scott Cantrell writes at the Dallas Morning News, citing what is known as "the Cliburn curse." In minor cases, the so-called curse resonates in the form of a pianist failing to live up to expectations or falling into a career slump. More ominous, though, is that three of the 16 winners since the competition began in 1962 have died at an early age. Steven De Groote, winner of 1977 Cliburn, for example, died from a complication of AIDS in 1989. He was 36.
That same year, Alexei Sultanov won the gold medal in what one judge labeled "a tremendous scandal." He was left partially paralyzed by a stroke in 2001 and died in his sleep in 2005 at age 35. Then in December 2014, 1985 winner José Feghali shot himself following a battle with depression. He was 53. "Some performers thrive for years in this rat race, but others become burned out and resentful. Lengthy periods away from home take tolls on families and relationships, too," writes Cantrell. "We didn't see a lot of Vadym in Moscow when he's traveling a lot," wife Sofya Tsygankova—a once-competitive pianist, per the Washington Post—told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2014 after moving to Texas. "We wanted to be together, with Vadym, to be a family."