Bar-Illan was born in Haifa during the Mandate era, and studied music at the Dona Weizman Conservatory. At age 17, he won a scholarship to study music in the United States, at the Juilliard School in New York City. In 1948, following Israeli Independence, he interrupted his studies and briefly returned to the new state of Israel to join the Israel Defense Forces and fight in the Israeli War of Independence. In 1950, he graduated from the Juilliard School and settled in the United States, becoming a professional musician and columnist. He recorded six albums on Audiofon, performed at concerts and recitals, and worked at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. During his musical career, he worked with conductors and composers such as Leonard Bernstein, Robert Starer, and Glenn Gould. In 1961, he became the first Israeli musician to perform in Germany. He also began writing articles for Eros magazine in the 1960s, and by the 1980s, was a regular columnist for American newspapers. He also became a vocal advocate for Israel and Soviet Jewry.
In 1987, Bar-Illan returned to Israel with his wife Beverly. From 1990 to 1992, he served as Executive Editor of The Jerusalem Post, Israel's leading English-language newspaper, and was a regular columnist from 1992 to 1996. In 1996, he became Director of Communications and Policy Planning for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, serving until 1999. During this period, he served as the State of Israel's key spokesman with the foreign media, appearing in hundreds of television and radio interviews. In 1999, he returned to the Jerusalem Post as an occasional columnist.
David Bar-Illan died in Jerusalem in 2003 at age 73, from complications of a heart attack he had suffered three years earlier. He was survived by his wife, three children, and two stepchildren.
To honor the memory and legacy of Bar-Illan, friends and family helped establish an annual event - The David Bar-Illan Conference on the Media & the Middle East - at the Ariel University Center of Samaria. The forum, held every November in Israel, is a full-day academic conference on media relations and ethics.
- David Bar-Illan profile
- Causley, Charles. David Bar-Illan. news.telegraph, November 6, 2003 (retrieved January 29, 2010)
- Fettmann, Eric. Israel Loses a Warrior New York Post, November 6, 2003 (retrieved July 14, 2011)
- Lueck, Thomas J. David Bar-Illan, Ex-Israeli Aide, Dies at 73 The New York Times, November 5, 2003 (retrieved January 29, 2010)
- Profile and recordings by Audiofon
- Joffe, Lawrence: Obituary: David Bar-Ilan
- David Dubal interview with David Bar-Illan (1 of 2), WNCN-FM, 27-Mar-1981
- David Dubal interview with David Bar-Illan (2 of 2), WNCN-FM, 28-Oct-1983