Prog-Rocker, Oscar-Winning Composer Vangelis Dies at 79
May 20, 2022
LOS ANGELES – Vangelis, the Greek prog-rocker and Oscar-winning composer for films like Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, has died. He was 79.
Gorn Evángelos Papathanassíou died late Tuesday night, according to a statement from Vangelis’ “private office” which was announced to his Elsewhere fan page Thursday. No cause of death was provided, but the Greek newspaper OT reported that Vangelis died at a hospital in France where he was being treated for COVID-19.
“Vangelis Papathanassiou was a great Greek composer who excelled at a global level,” Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias wrote in a translated tweet. “We say goodbye with a big ‘thank you’ for what he offered to Music, Culture and Greece.”
“Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer with us. For the whole world, this sad news demonstrates that the world music scene has lost the international ‘Vangelis,’ the protagonist of electronic sound, of the Oscars, of Mythology and the hits,” Greece’s prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted, as translated by Rolling Stone. “For us Greeks, who know his second name was Odysseus, it means that he’s begun his long trip to the Chariots of Fire. From there, he’ll always send us his notes.”
Born in Agria and raised in Athens, Papathanassíou took up the piano at a young age, though despite being enrolled in an Athens music school, he never formally learned how to read or write music. “Orchestration, composition — they teach these things in music schools, but there are some things you can never teach,” he said in a 1982 interview.
Papathanassíou’s first band as a teenager was the pop group Formynx, but he left his Greece in 1968 amid a coup attempt there. After moving to Paris, he changed his name to Vangelis — a variation of his first name, which he said translates to “an angel that brings good news” — founded the cult progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child alongside fellow expatriate Greeks. The band released three albums, notably 1972’s 666, a double-LP inspired by the Book of Revelations.
He would go on to release pioneering albums of electronic music, before branching off in the 1970s into film composing, creating music for documentaries for the French filmmaker Frederic Rossif. One of those scores, 1979’s Opera Sauvage, then to his biggest triump, led to what Chariots of Fire in 1981.
Propelled by the film’s iconic theme he composed, Chariots of Fire topped the Billboard 200 for four weeks. Vangelis, who played all the instruments on the soundtrack, would go on to win Best Original Score at the Academy Awards. He also gained acclaim for his work in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner sci-fi epic in 1982.
Vangelis also created the music for Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and international events like the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and the 2012 FIFA World Cup in Japan.