According to Associated Baptist Press (ABP), Cliburn's friends remember him first and foremost for his lifelong Baptist faith, which is little known "because Cliburn was not one to boast about matters of faith."
"People of this generation do not understand that Van did as much as anybody to thaw the Cold War–and he did that carrying Christ in his heart," Cliburn's friend Tom Stoker told ABP.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Cliburn skyrocketed to international renown when he "won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 and was given a hero's welcome back in the United States. He went on to a long and acclaimed career."
Cliburn was diagnosed with bone cancer in August 2012.