Vangelis, the Greek composer and musician whose synth-driven work brought huge drama to film soundtracks including Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire, has died aged 79. His representatives said he died in hospital in France where he was being treated.
Born Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou in 1943, Vangelis won an Oscar for his 1981 Chariots of Fire soundtrack. Its uplifting piano motif became world-renowned, and reached No 1 in the US charts, as did the accompanying soundtrack album.
Mostly self-taught in music, Vangelis grew up in Athens and formed his first band in 1963, called the Forminx, playing the pop music of the time: uptempo rock’n’roll, sweeping ballads and Beatles cover versions, with Vangelis supplying organ lines.
They split in 1966, and Vangelis became a writer and producer for hire, working for other musicians and contributing scores for Greek films. Two years later, he struck out for Paris to further his career, where he formed the prog rock quartet Aphrodite’s Child with Greek expats, including Demis Roussos. Their single Rain and Tears was a hit across Europe, topping the French, Belgian and Italian charts and reaching the UK Top 30
After they split – Vangelis deeming the world of commercial pop “very boring” – he returned to scoring film and TV. Turning down an invitation to replace Rick Wakeman on keyboards in Yes, he moved to London and signed a solo deal with RCA Records: his LPs Heaven and Hell (1975) and Albedo 0.39 (1976) each reached the UK Top 40, and the former was used to soundtrack Carl Sagan’s popular TV series Cosmos. The connection with Yes was finally completed later in the decade, when he teamed with the band’s Jon Anderson for the duo Jon and Vangelis, whose debut album went Top 5.
Vangelis had continued his film score work throughout the 1970s, but it was in the 80s that this reached its commercial heights. Chariots of Fire became inextricable from Vangelis’s timeless theme, and the music became synonymous with slow-motion sporting montages. “My music does not try to evoke emotions like joy, love, or pain from the audience. It just goes with the image, because I work in the moment,” he later explained.
His score to Blade Runner is equally celebrated for its evocation of a sinister future version of Los Angeles, where “replicants” and humans live awkwardly alongside one another, through the use of long, malevolent synth notes; saxophones and lush ambient passages enhance the film’s romantic and poignant moments. “It has turned out to be a very prophetic film – we’re living in a kind of Blade Runner world now,” he said in 2005.
Later in the decade he scored the Palme d’Or-winning Costa-Gavras political drama Missing, starring Jack Lemmon; the Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins drama The Bounty, and the Mickey Rourke-starring Francesco. He worked again with the Blade Runner director, Ridley Scott, on 1992 film 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and elsewhere during the 90s, soundtracked Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon and documentaries by Jacques Cousteau.