Vangelis, the Academy Award-winning composer of the music for Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner and a pioneer of electronic music, has died. He was 79.
According to multiple media outlets in the musician’s native Greece, Vangelis died of coronavirus in France, where he lived part-time. He also had homes in London and Athens.
“It is with great sadness that we announce that the great Greek Vangelis Papathanassiou passed away late in the evening of May 17,” Vangelis’ lawyer was quoted as saying by ANA news agency.
Throughout his more than 50-year career, Vangelis was known for his musical experimentation and eclectic influences. He won an Academy Award for his theme for the British film Chariots of Fire in 1982 and developed the scores for a number of other films, including Ridley Scott’s cult classic Blade Runner, as well as for theater and ballet.
“Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer with us,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted.
“The music world has lost the international (artist) Vangelis.”
Born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in Agria, a coastal town in central Greece, Vangelis developed an interest in music at an early age and experimented with sounds by banging on pots and pans or attaching nails, glasses and other objects to the strings of his parents’ piano. He gave his first piano concerto at the age of six.
“I never studied music,” he told the Greek magazine Periodiko in 1988, in which he also lamented the growing “exploitation” by studios and the media.
“There used to be a craze … now it’s a job.”
“You could sell a million records while feeling like a failure. Or maybe you’re not selling anything and you’re feeling very lucky,” he said.
After studying painting at the Athens Art School, Vangelis started playing with local Greek rock bands. At 25 he went to Paris, part of an exodus of artistic talent following the 1967 military coup.
In Paris, he joined fellow Greeks Demis Roussos and Lucas Sideras in the progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child, achieving cult status and selling millions of records before disbanding in 1972.
Fascinated by the then new field of electronic synths, Vangelis settled in London in 1974 where he founded Nemo Studios, the “sound laboratory” that produced most of his solo albums for more than a decade.
But he valued his independence more than record sales.
“Success is sweet and treacherous,” the composer told the British newspaper Observer in 2012.
Vangelis, after whom a minor planet was named in 1995, was fascinated by space from an early age.
In 1980 he contributed music to Carl Sagan’s award-winning science documentary Cosmos. He wrote music for NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey mission and its Juno-Jupiter missions, as well as a Grammy-nominated album inspired by the 2016 Rosetta spacecraft mission.
On Twitter, NASA paid tribute with the words “Ad astra” (the stars) and shared a video from the Juno mission.
Ad Astra, Vangelis.
Full playlist: https://t.co/bNyqzQGWRS pic.twitter.com/2QbjoKStko
— NASA (@NASA) May 19, 2022
In 2018 he composed a piece for Stephen Hawking’s funeral, which included the late professor’s words and was sent into space by the European Space Agency.
He has been showered with honours, receiving the Max Steiner Film Music Prize, the French Legion d’Honneur, the NASA Medal for Public Service and Greece’s highest decoration, the Order of the Phoenix.
Vangelis carefully protected his privacy and little was known about his private life.
“I don’t do interviews because I have to try to say things that I don’t have to say,” he told the LA Times in 2019.
“The only thing I have to do is just make music.”