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Chariots of Fire composer Vangelis dies at 79

Greek media reports Vangelis — the Oscar-winning composer who wrote the unforgettable Academy Award-winning score for the film Chariots of Fire — has died at the age of 79.

Vangelis, the Greek electronic composer who wrote the unforgettable Academy Award-winning score for the film Chariots of Fire and music for dozens of other movies, documentaries and TV series, has died at 79.

Key points:
  • Vangelis became internationally famous with his musical score for Chariots of Fire
  • The piece won an Academy Award and is one of the most instantly recognisable musical themes in cinema
  • His record label Decca said his music will live on forever

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and other government officials expressed their condolences on Thursday. 

Greek media reported that Vangelis — born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou — died in a French hospital late on Tuesday.

"Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer among us," Mitsotakis tweeted, calling him an "electronic sound trailblazer" whose death is "sad news for the entire world".

The opening credits of Chariots of Fire roll as a bunch of young runners progress in slow motion across a glum beach in Scotland, as a lazy, beat-backed tune rises.

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It is one of the most instantly recognisable musical themes in cinema — and its standing in popular culture has only been confirmed by the host of spoofs it has sired.

The 1981 British film, which told the true story of two British runners competing in the 1924 Paris Olympics, remains Vangelis's most famous work, but his initial encounter with success came with his first Greek pop band in the 1960s.

At 20, Vangelis and three friends formed the Forminx band in Athens, which did very well in Greece.

After it disbanded, he wrote scores for several Greek films and later became a founding member — together with another later-to-be internationally famous Greek musician, Demis Roussos — of Aphrodite's Child.

Based in Paris, the progressive rock group produced several European hits, and their final record, 666, released in 1972, is still highly acclaimed.

He evolved into a one-man quasi-classical orchestra, using a vast array of electronic equipment to conjure up his enormously popular undulating waves of sound.

A man sits at a piano with a backdrop of three Greek columns behind himA man sits at a piano with a backdrop of three Greek columns behind him
Vangelis performs during a concert at the Temple of Zeus in Athens in 2001.(Reuters)

A private, humorous man — burly, with shoulder-length hair and a trim beard — he quoted ancient Greek philosophy and saw the artist as a conduit for a basic universal force.

He was fascinated by space exploration and wrote music for celestial bodies, but said he never sought stardom himself.

Still, a micro-planet spinning somewhere between Mars and Jupiter — 6354 Vangelis — will forever bear his name.

Born on March 29, 1943 near the city of Volos in central Greece, Vangelis started playing the piano at age 4, although he got no formal training and claimed he never learned to read notes.

"Orchestration, composition — they teach these things in music schools, but there are some things you can never teach," he said in a 1982 interview.

"You can't teach creation."

Vangelis's Chariots score won one of the four Academy Awards the film captured, including best picture.

Vangelis later wrote music scores for Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) and 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), as well as for Missing (1982) and Antarctica (1983), among others.

His interest in science — including the physics of music and sound — and space exploration led to compositions linked with major NASA and European Space Agency projects.

When British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking died in 2018, Vangelis composed a musical tribute for his interment that the ESA broadcast into space.

Decca, the record label for his last three albums, called the composer "a genius."

"Vangelis created music of extraordinary originality and power, and provided the soundtrack to so many of our lives," it said.

"Decca had the pleasure of partnering with Vangelis and his team for his past three albums and we will miss him enormously. His music will live on forever."

Reuters/AP

Posted 22h ago22 hours agoThu 19 May 2022 at 10:35pm, updated 21h ago21 hours agoThu 19 May 2022 at 10:54pm

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