Sultanov had the first of a series of disabling strokes in 2001 following surgery to remove the blood around his brain from a head injury. He suffered from paralysis, but managed, with a great deal of therapy, to play right-handed duets with his wife, cellist Dace Sultanov. Sultanov's doctor said he probably died in his sleep of a heart attack.
The son of a cellist and a violinist, the Uzbekistan-born Sultanov studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Lev Naumov. He won the Cliburn competition at the age of 19.
Richard Rodzinski, president of the Van Cliburn Foundation, said, "His extraordinary technique was so obvious. I'll never forget the Liszt Mephisto Waltz when he played in the screening auditions in St. Petersburg. All his colleagues were there, and their jaws just dropped."
After winning the competition, Sultanov performed with major orchestras and made some recordings, but reactions to his performing were mixed. In 1995, he entered the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, but the judges decided not to award a first prize, instead giving Sultanov a shared second prize with Philippe Giusiano.
"One especially mourns when, like an unfinished melody, the fulfillment of that potential is cut short by tragic events," Rodzinski said. "There's always that 'What if?'—as with Mozart and Gershwin. Wheat if he had had the chance to live longer and grow?"