Internationally known pianist Van Cliburn surprised the audience Thursday night at the the 50th Anniversary Gold Medalists Concert when he walked on stage.
Cliburn, who has been gravely ill with bone cancer, received a standing ovation and cheers as he walked onto the stage at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.
In a cracking voice, 78-year-old Cliburn said he was "thrilled" to be at the concert.
He went on to praise the city of Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Symphony, its conductor and Bass Performance Hall, which will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year, as well as the state of Texas and the United States.
He saluted classical music fans and ended his speech by saying, "Never forget I love you all from the bottom of my heart, forever," to the audience before waving and exiting the stage to another standing ovation.
Cliburn was a 23-year-old, fresh-faced, wavy-haired kid from Texas in 1958 when he claimed victory at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
Time magazine put on the him on the cover that year and called him "The Texan Who Conquered Russia." World-wide fame and full concert houses followed.
Recently, Christie's in New York auctioned more than 150 pieces of art, silver, furniture and jewelry belonging to the famous Texas pianist. The collection fetched $4.3 million in May.
The 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition will be held May 24-June 9, 2013.