Death of Vangelis, the Greek composer of Blade Runner with whom Demis Roussos formed the Aphrodite’s Child

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Pioneer of electronic music, Vangelis Papathanassiou had found his inspiration in space exploration, nature, futuristic architecture, the New Testament and the student movement of May 1968.

The Greek composer of “Blade Runner” and “Chariots of Fire”, Vangelis Papathanassiou, nicknamed Vangelis, died at the age of 79, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Thursday evening.

“Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer with us,” the prime minister tweeted. “The music world has lost international (artist) Vangelis,” his tweet added.

A music legend. From Aphrodite’s Child to her Blade Runner or Animal Apocalypse soundtracks. And of course, Chariots of Fire. Vangelis Papathanassíou leaves a mind-blowing and innovative sound heritage. pic.twitter.com/KpRqehYz8Q

— Belkacem BAHLOULI (@75_belkacem) May 19, 2022

A pioneer of electronic music, this autodidact had found his inspiration in space exploration, nature, futuristic architecture, the New Testament and the student movement of May 1968.

His soundtrack for “Chariots of Fire” was Oscar-winning against the music of John Williams made for Indiana Jones’ first movie in 1982.

“It is with great sadness that we announce that the great Greek Vangelis Papathanassiou died late on the night of Tuesday May 17,” also announced his lawyer quoted Thursday by the Greek news agency ANA.

According to several Greek media, Vangelis died of the coronavirus in France where he shared his time with London and Athens. Kyriakos Mitsotakis also pointed out that Vangelis’ middle name was Ulysses. “For us Greeks, this means that he began his great journey on the chariots of Fire. From there he will always send us his notes,” the Prime Minister tweeted again.

Among the dozen soundtracks he has composed are those for the Costa-Gavras film “Missing”, Roman Polanski’s “Bile Moons” and Oliver Stone’s “Alexander”.

Child prodigy

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou was born in 1943 in the village of Agria near Volos (center). A child prodigy, he gave his first piano concert at the age of 6, without having really taken any lessons. “I never studied music,” he told the Greek magazine Periodiko in 1988, also deploring the growing “exploitation” imposed by the studios and the media. “You can sell a million records and feel like a failure. Or you can sell nothing at all and feel very happy,” he said.

After studying painting at the School of Fine Arts in Athens, Vangelis joined the Greek rock band the “Forminx” in the 1960s. Their success was cut short by the military junta in 1967, which put a restriction on freedom of expression. Trying to reach the UK, he found himself stranded in Paris during the student movement of May 1968, and together with two other Greek exiles, Demis Roussos and Lucas Sideras, he formed a progressive rock band “Aphrodite’s Child”.

The group sold millions of records with hits such as “Rain and Tears” before disbanding in 1972. Relocated to London in 1974, Vangelis set up Nemo Studios, “a sound laboratory”, producing most of his albums.

“Success is treacherous”

“Success is sweet and treacherous,” the lion-maned composer confessed to the Observer in 2012. “Instead of being able to move on freely and do what you really want, you find yourself stuck and having to repeat yourself,” he also added.

In 2019 in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the musician claimed to see parallels with the dystopia described in the film “Blade Runner” by Ridley Scott. “When I saw the images, I understood that this was the future. Not a bright future, of course. But this is where we are going,” he said. Vangelis, who had a planet renamed after him in 1995, had a fascination with space. “Every planet sings,” he told this newspaper in 2019.

In 1980 he participated in the music of the scientific documentary Cosmos, awarded the Carla Sagan prize. He wrote music for NASA’s Mars Odyssey in 2001 and the Juno Jupiter missions in 2011, and was inspired in a Grammy-nominated album by the Rosetta spacecraft mission in 2016. In 2018, he composed a piece for Stephen Hawking’s funeral that mentioned the famous professor’s last words. Vangelis has received the Max Steiner Film Music Award, the Legion of Honor in France, the NASA Public Service Medal, and Greece’s highest honour, the Order of the Phoenix.

During the last years of his life, Vangelis divided his time between Paris, London and Athens, always remaining discreet about his private life.